As You Like It
Since 1993, the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company has turned the tables on tradition, reversing the original concept of male actors playing the Bard’s female roles by casting only women in their productions. This way, LAWSC continually attracts incredibly talented performers eager to pencil in sideburns, adopt a wide-legged swagger, add a well-placed sock, and find a new kind of artistic empowerment.
It’s always intriguing to see what these smaller-framed, lighter-voiced thespians do to bring Will’s mightiest to life, but this time tackling As You Like It, now playing at the Matrix, LAWSC’s spin on things is even more interesting, not only because of the already gender-bent nature of the material, but because the Forest of Arden has astral-projected into the American West of the 1880s.
Lisa Wolpe directs with an assured hand, cleverly adding period music and dance to grace a magically versatile roughhewn set by Mia Torres which, accompanied by the faint clink of spurs, transforms from frontier town to open plains to cathouse-saloon. Decked out in Christina Wright’s splendid cowboy drag, suspension of belief happens with surprising alacrity thanks to such stalwart LA stage royalty as the ever-formidable Fran Bennett, who bellows in perfectly modulated Shakespearean tones as both Dukes; the durable Mary Cobb, almost unrecognizable as the bewhiskered Corin; and Brady Rubin as Adam, turning the aged servant into a resident Gabby Hayes.
Among many unswervingly committed performances, Wolpe is riveting in her simplicity as the melancholy Jaques, Kimberly Aarn crafts a suitably dashing Orlando, Katrinka Wolfson teases effortlessly as Celia, Kate Roxburgh is a slickly Cockney Touchstone, and Emme Geissal makes an auspicious LA stage debut as the Chaplin-faced Kid.
Still, this is a case of As You Could Almost Like It, as the Achilles’ heel of this formidable presentation is glaringly obvious: Although Abigail Rose Solomon has her ducks in a row as producer of the piece, as leading lady she doesn’t yet have the chops to stand alongside this veteran ensemble, substituting flailing arms and alternately joyful and pained facial reactions for acting. Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most challenging roles and, for anyone dreams of one day playing such a juicy character, the tools needed to make it happen must also be there, right alongside the passion to bring it to fruition.
As You Like It plays through June 3 at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Av., LA; for tickets, call (800) 595-4849.