La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘As You Like It’ Celebrates Joy

Esco Jouléy, Jen Richards and Peter Smith. (Photos courtesy of Rich Soublet II).

A good amount of shows from the La Jolla Playhouse this year, including Bhangin’ It, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord and Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) focused on optimistic stories with messages about positive relationships. The company, in association with Diversionary Theatre, is ending 2022 with a great production of another narrative involving life-changing bonds between people, William Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It.

Rosalind (Peter Smith) is the daughter of Duke Senior (David Greenspan), a beloved ruler who was banished by his brother, the villainous Duke Frederick (Rachel Crowl). She falls for Orlando (Esco Jouléy), the child of Frederick’s nemesis, Sir Rowland de Bois.

Frederick’s hatred of Rosalind and Orlando forces the two of them to leave their homes following a wrestling match, and escape to the peaceful Forest of Arden.

Artistic director, Christopher Ashley, and Will Davis, take a lighthearted approach to the material at the Potiker Theatre, with emphasis on the enchanting Arden, and the hospitality of the individuals who live in the woods. Crewmembers, including costume designer, Mel Ng, scenic designer, Emmie Finckel and lighting designer, Cha See, beautifully convey the differences between the welcoming forest and the dangerous court of Frederick.

The only design element that can be hard to appreciate is Ien Denio’s sound design, particularly in songs arranged by music director, T. Carlis Roberts. I occasionally struggled to hear the lyrics to tunes sung by the cast, particularly Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Rihanna’s single, “Diamonds.” However, there are other numbers where Denio and Roberts’ contributions blend perfectly, especially throughout Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Native Melody)” and Robyn’s dance hit, “Dancing On My Own.”

Starring trans, non-binary and queer artists, all the performers capture the unique personalities of the Bard’s classic characters. Smith, Jen Richards and Cody Sloan share an easygoing rapport as cousins Rosalind, Celia and Frederick’s court jester, Touchstone. While Jouléy’s anger in the opening scene felt exaggerated during the performance I saw, the actor’s charisma was soon in full display as sparks fly between Rosalind and Orlando.

Cody Sloan and Taiwo Sokan.

One of the most versatile artists of the entire evening is actress/bass player Crowl, who is equally compelling as the terrifying Frederick, and the soft-spoken shepherd, Corin. Her distinct choices, from her expressive voice, to her physical movement, makes the two roles feel like two separate human beings.

Co-stars, including Rami Margron, TaiReikca L.A. and Greenspan standout in memorable roles, and each of them show a good amount of range in comedic and dramatic moments.

Something that should be noted about this interpretation is the timing of the staging. Recently, there was tragedy with the Colorado Springs Club Q shooting, and hope for the LGBTQ community with the Senate voting in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act. This really is an important time for an uplifting and romantic modern rendition that embraces the community.

As You Like It represents a joyful conclusion to 2022 for the playhouse. Ashley and Davis crafted a celebratory feel-good version of The Bard’s timeless tale.

View the program online.

[box] Show times are Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]

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La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla CA 92037 USA Work Phone: 858.550.1010 Website: La Jolla Playhouse website
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