Wrestling affections in Impact’s As You Like It

As You Like It 1

Celia (Alexander Lenarsky, left) and Rosalind (Maria Giere Marquis) while away the hours waiting for Orlando in Impact Theatre’s ultra-gender-bending As You Like It. Below: Phebe (Luisa Frasconi, center) attempts to woo Rosalind (Maria Giere Marquis, right) as Celia (Alexander Lenarsky) and Silvius (Brandon Mears) bear witness. Photos by Cheshire Isaacs

Shakespeare didn’t drop any F-bombs in his comedy As You Like It, but that doesn’t stop Impact Theatre. There are lots of non-Shakespeare asides in this highly edited, streamlined version from director Melissa Hillman, but purists shouldn’t despair. Such contemporary additions are usually thrown in during scene transitions or to punctuate a joke that has already landed. And they’re a hell of a lot of fun, as is the entire 2 1/2- hour show.

Hillman and Impact often draw from the Shakespeare well, but rather serving the plays up straight, they’re turned into potent cocktails, with some darker and bloodier than others. With As You Like It, Hillman and her game cast are reveling in relationships. Some of the more Shakespearean touches in the show – like the characters of Jaques the grump and Touchstone the clown don’t fare as well because they’re too much on the periphery and don’t fit in to the gender-bending love stories jumping through hoops in the center ring.

Set in present day, the play revs up for a wrestling match that is played in high style, behind chain-link fence, no less (set by Anne Kendall) with Hulk Hogan-ish Charles (Stacz Sadowski) ready to pummel underdog Orlando (Miyaka Cochrane). The flashing lights, the great choreography (fight direction by Dave Maier) and even an errant crowbar make the match a play highlight. And when Orlando emerges victorious, we dive into the main love story involving him and Rosalind (Maria Giere Marquis), the daughter of a banished ruler (traditionally a duke, but here a duchess plaeyd by Marianna Wolff) who is kept at court to amuse her beloved cousin, Celia (traditionally a woman but here a gay man played with scene-stealing panache by Alexander Lenarsky). That Rosalind and Celia are BFFs is not only a given here but the heart of the story. When their story sends them away from court in disguise, well Rosalind is disguised as a boy named Ganymede, they end up in the Northern California town of Arden, where the action takes place entirely in a bar.

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I must say I missed a sense of the outdoors because that is one of the charms of the forest-set As You Like It, but when you perform in a low-ceilinged basement theater on a stage the size of a Pop Tart, you do what you can, and it never ceases to amaze me what the Impact crew manages to accomplish on one of the most restrictive stages in the Bay Area. At one point, as the action shifts from the court to Arden, we get a music video – almost like the opening credits to a sitcom – featuring the main characters in a rock band (kudos to filmmaker Martín Estévez). It’s a delightful touch, and I hoped for more, or that at some point the cast would strap on their guitars for a number, but it didn’t happen.

Act 1 ends rather abruptly, but the longer Act 2 gets a big boost in the form of Luisa Frasconi as Phebe, a short skirt and fur-wearing, Gold Star-sipping lass who can’t be bothered with doe-eyed Silvius (Brandon Mears), who’s as smitten as a man can be. The minute she lays eyes on Ganymede, she herself is smitten, but we know how that will go. Still, it’s great fun to watch Frasconi spurn Mears and drool over Marquis.

Speaking of Marquis, after having played Viola in Twelfth Night and now Rosalind, she’s become expert at playing girls dressed as boys. She’s believable in both parts and never lets us lose sight of the love-struck girl who makes a passable boy in a newsie cap. She’s charming, and her relationship with Lenarsky’s Celia never fails to keep the action grounded in affection.

From the eye-rolling bartender (Cassie Rosenbrock, who looks 16 months pregnant) to a Corin (Jon Nagel) ready to officiate at any flavor of wedding, there’s no shortage of things to like in Impact’s As You Like It.

[bonus interview]

I talked to Maria Giere Marquis about Impact’s As You Like It for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.


Impact Theatre’s As You Like It continues through March 30 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$25. Visit www.impacttheatre.com.

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