“Sweet are the uses of adversity,” reads the inscription on the statue in the center of the stage at the beginning of Syracuse University's production of “As You Like It.” In this production, though, there was little adversity from which to sweeten. With a solid cast aided by wonderful costumes and an inventive (if not occasionally distracting) set, the College of Visual and Performing Arts' production of “As You Like It” on Saturday May 12 was a sturdy adaptation of the Shakespeare play that walked at a brisk pace and barely registered as a student production.
Despite its Elizabethan origins, “As You Like It” was warm and approachable. The neoclassical scenery and costumes at the onset of the play, inspired by French baroque painters Watteau and Fragonard, were lovely to look at, but the execution of the setting with its actors bowing and curtseying (and an excess use of fans to punctuate lines) came at the expense of some of the language, which was hard to decipher. Some of the actors veered perilously close to the danger zone of “drama students acting Shakespeare.”
But once the actors were let loose into the Forest of Arden, technique loosened and the acting improved dramatically. The costumes changed from French court-wear to pastoral ensembles in rich rustic russets, greens and earth tones.
The star of the show by billing and talent was Rosalind’s Hayley Palmaer. While a bit stilted in court, as soon as she slid on her brown leather boots and stuck a giant hat on her head to become the youth Ganymede, she was as transformed as her character. Her facial expressions were subtle and she was lively on stage, commanding scenes without straying into theatricality. Palmaer created a mischievous, glowing Rosalind, full of gumption and glee.
Rosalind was accompanied by Celia (Rebeccah Singer), who improved as the show went on, and was paired with Kyle Anderson’s affable Orlando, a role that could easily stray into a bland “nice guy," but was acted with earnest.
Of course, we must talk about Touchstone. Arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedy characters, Sammy Lopez had a challenge in bringing such a famous fool to stage. Though this Touchstone was on the simpering side, and looked like a bit of a dandy in his Disney courtier costumes (with a pink wig straight out of “Amadeus”), he nailed the clownish countenance of the character and hinted cheekily at the subversive double-meanings of the fool’s lines.
The character Jaques, who delivers the famed “All the world’s a stage” line, has some of the finest speeches in the play, and is a wonderfully contemplative character. As you hear often throughout the play, he’s quite melancholy.
Except here, “he” is a “she,” and it becomes sort of a problem. Olivia Gjurich does justice to the role, but when cast as a woman (and not just a woman playing a man), it seemed to affect her portrayal of the character. Gjurich swept around the stage in a long, full-skirted crimson dress with a thin shawl held around her arms or tied as a belt around her waist. While her costume was lovely, it hindered her from exploring some of the physical opportunities afforded her by Jaques’ rich, long speeches. Gjurich decided to play Jaques with a scoffing scorn rather than an occasionally choleric melancholy, a decision that perhaps prevented her from delving into the somber pronouncements of her character. But Gjurich owned her lines and delivered her speeches aptly.
The play employed a rotating stage for the setting which, while a bold decision, was often distracting. Without music playing during scene changes, the whir of machinery was audible throughout the small theater. The set’s spinning was also used as a device to indicate passages of time or characters’ contemplation, but for audience members in a silly mood this was more comical than intended.
A Shakespeare scholar might point out missed puns in various parts of the production or opportunities for more physical comedy, but as a theatrical production this was fine work. This gender-bending, set-spinning, baroque-flavored production is satisfying for both a buff of the Bard and a Shakespeare newcomer.