Winters Theatre Company's 'As You Like It' is a great escape from 'the working-day world'

The show opens 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2 at the Community Center Amphitheater and runs for two weeks.
Cameron Toney and Elizabeth Williams Emma Johnson/Winters Express

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When it comes to outdoor summer theater, William Shakespeare is still the reigning king. This year the Winters Theatre Company (WTC) is performing “As You Like It,” directed by Laure Olson, for their “Shakespeare Under the Stars” show. “As You Like It” has everything the audience could want from a night at the theater: True love, unfair banishment, slapstick comedy, a bad guy with a winning evil laugh and–best of all–a long vacation in the wild forest of Arden. It’s like a classic summer camp story, but with feudalism.  It would seem like any production would be an easy hit, but the cast has a lot of plates to keep spinning. The play has three warring families, four lovesick couples and a lot of tension that needs to be resolved before the final curtain call, and WTC pulls it off marvelously.   Cody Svozil plays the gallant hero Orlando, who cares for his faithful retainer, Mistress Adam (Carole Ludington). Orlando has been dreadfully mistreated by his older brother Oliver, played by a convincingly wicked Scott Schwerdfeger. Oliver hates his younger brother so deeply that he devises a plot to have him “accidentally” killed in a fight against Charles the Wrestler, played by Robert   Williams. Williams strikes such an imposing figure as a wrestler that, while the audience may be rooting for Orlando to win the match, they probably wouldn’t put any money on that outcome.  But this isn’t a gritty wrestling-based tragedy, it’s a pastoral comedy. The cast does a great job playing the “fight” for comedic effect.  After the fight Orlando locks eyes with Rosalind, played by Cameron Toney, and there the love story begins. As one character asks, “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?”  Rosalind is often considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedic female characters. She’s a clever problem solver who knows what she wants–Orlando–and how to get it–by dressing like a man and arranging her own marriage. Toney’s performance brings out the energetic wit and a confident swagger that has made Rosalind such an endearing heroine.   Rosalind has a dear friend in her cousin Celia (Elizabeth Williams). The two have been living in court, where they rub shoulders with the likes of the gossipy Madame Lebeau (Laurel Brittain). Celia is such a faithful friend that when her mother, Duchess Frederica (Liz Flores), banishes Rosalind, Celia decides to follow her cousin to the Forest of Arden. Who would have guessed that such a terrifying ruler as Frederica would have a daughter who is goodness personified, but Flores and Williams play their roles expertly.  Rosalind and Celia decide they can’t leave the safety of the court without some comic relief, so they convince Touchstone the Fool, played by veteran WTC actor Jim Hewlett, to join them.  The role seems so tailor made for the actor that it makes you wonder if the acting company at Globe Theatre had its own Hewlett who served as Shakespeare’s muse.   Touchstone’s words and body language are as exuberant as his costume, and the role fits Hewlett like a brightly colored glove. But the Forest of Arden already has a resident fool: The melancholic Jaques (Phillip Stommel). Jaques isn’t a clown, but he’s somehow so bitter about life you can’t help but laugh at him. Stommel captures the character’s swings from dry humor to insightful philosophizing. Jaques isn’t the only funny guy in the forest. There is Corin (Shelley Foster), a   shepherd who’s sick of listening to her friend, Silvius (Brian Nelson) pine over Phebe (Sarah Thompson), the girl he can’t accept is just not that into him.  Nelson’s Silvius is adorable in his lovesickness, a trait with which Thomson’s Phebe is clearly very fed up. Together the pair are a couple you root for only because it’s so fun to watch them fight. Then there’s Valentin Molina, who is double cast as an inebriated friar and a country bumpkin named William. Molina brings great physical comedy to both performances. Touchstone finds his ideal match in the sweet but simple Audrey, who wonders if the fool would love her more if she were “poetical” like the people of the court. Jennifer Rutherford plays Audrey with the ideal level of lovable uncouthness. She’s a counter to the regal Duke Senior (Chris Thaiss), Rosalind’s father who was also exiled to the forest. He is joined by the faithful members of his court, played by Isadora Harris, Jason Williams and Bryan Pro.    The romantic plot gets increasingly more complicated as the action progresses, and Rosalind realizes that she is the only woman-pretending-to-be-a-man who can fix it. By the time the conflict is resolved the couples are so well matched that the goddess of marriage herself, Hera (Germaine Hupe), comes down from the heavens to solemnize their unions.  As the play wraps up the sky is dark stars are bright over the amphitheater. The crickets and frogs of Putah Creek can be heard in stereo around the stage.  Catching one of WTC’s four performances of “As You Like It” is a great way to wind down the week.  As Rosalind laments, “How full of briars is the working-day world!” A mythical forest where banished young royalty have nothing better to do than make problems for themselves by falling in love is a welcome escape. WTC will be performing “As You Like It” on Fridays and Saturdays from Friday, Aug. 2 to Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Community Center Amphitheater. Performances start at 8 p.m. Admission is $5, and children under the age of 12 get in for free when accompanied by an adult. Bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. 

This article has been update to correct the spelling of three of the actors’ names and include that the play was directed by Laure Olson.   ]]>

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