As You Like It, my favorite Shakespeare comedy – everyone runs off to the forest and hijinks ensue. Evil Duke Frederick has overthrown his brother, the rightful Duke, and banished him and some others – including, later on, the banished Duke’s daughter, Rosalind. Since Frederick’s own daughter, Celia, is Rosalind’s close friend, the two girls flee together, taking the court fool, Touchstone, along with them. Meanwhile, Orlando, whose father was a friend of the banished Duke, also flees to the forest to escape his murderous older brother, Oliver. Orlando and Rosalind had met before, when Orlando entered a public wrestling match, and fell instantly in love. But he doesn’t recognize her when they meet in the forest, since she is posing as a boy to make the pair (Rosalind and Celia) less vulnerable as they travel.

I usually don’t recap the plot – nothing to add to wikipedia or hundreds of other sources where you can get a synopsis. But I’m doing so in this case to remind myself of exactly how much plot there is, and how wildly contrived it looks when written down. Which is why it plays so well with a light touch and a quick pace, with young performers hurtling through energetically as if they are making the whole thing up. The Argo recording is student-heavy. This is absolutely a university production of the play, with undergraduates in the two lead roles and the supporting cast crammed with twentysomething performers throwing themselves into the business with abandon. It all works very well – David Gibson and Christine Baker, as Orlando and Rosalind – are as fearless and committed, and Baker especially seems giddy with the extravagant poetry of her lines. As far as I can tell, neither of them continued to act after Cambridge, so their performances have all the brightness of a brief whim.

Two performances are out of place. Distinguished stage actress Irene Worth gives a polished, thoughtful performance as Phebe, but such meticulous care actually misses the rhythm of the other players and slows the play down.

The other out of place performance is intentionally so – Anthony Jacobs is superb as Jacques, the melancholy exiled nobleman whose rambling monologues provide the other banished aristocrats with a welcome distraction. But as the play progresses, he becomes trapped in a pattern of failed social interaction with one character or group of characters after another, until it becomes clear finally, even to him, that he has become permanently a misfit. Melancholy is unable to penetrate the generally vibrant spirit of the exiled group and Jacob’s tight, raspy voice captures perfectly the solitary nature of the character, unable to harmonize with the other voices with which he tries to blend.

As You Like It with Christine Baker, David Gibson, Anthony Jacobs and John Wilders

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