Shakespeare probably didn’t have the WWF in mind when he concocted the wrestling scene in “As You Like It,” but Pioneer Theatre Company’s version strongly resembles something you’d see in modern-day professional wrestling.
And it just goes toward proving what is essentially the main point when doing a Shakespearean comedy: If it’s funny, it works.
This production of the cheery farce, directed by Utah Shakespearean Festival regular Paul Barnes and populated by many of his fellow ShakesFest cohorts, IS funny, thanks largely to some great source material (naturally) and strong performances by people who know how to do comedy.
Sometimes Shakespeare’s funny plays wind up not-so-funny because snooty Shakespearean actors get cast in the lead roles, speaking the lines eloquently and with the proper American Standard dialect, but without any sense of comic timing.
Not so here. Carol Linnea Johnson is positively hilarious as Rosalind, the woman who poses as a man, befriends the guy she’s in love with, then lets him practice on him/her the way he would woo Rosalind if she were really there — of course not realizing that Rosalind IS there, and that his practice dummy is actually the real deal.
Johnson is the standout performer in the show, displaying tremendous comic agility in a role that requires energy, timing and control. She doesn’t go overboard, but she doesn’t let any opportunities pass, either.
Ty Burrell plays Orlando, the man who loves Rosalind. Burrell’s a fine actor, too, with an expressive voice and a flair for subtle comedy.
There are a total of four couples in this show, all of them courting each other out in the forest, where the Duke (Robert Peterson) is living merrily in exile, his brother (Anthony De Fonte) having usurped the throne. Priceless scenes abound: Pompous courtier Touchstone (Anderson Matthews) discusses etiquette with Corin (Thomas Carson), a simple shepherd. Orlando’s brother Oliver (R. Ward Duffy) meets Rosalind (in disguise) and her cousin Celia (Deanne Lorette), falls in love with Celia, and figures out Rosalind’s secret.
And of course every scene between Orlando and the disguised Rosalind is a gem of comedy, real battle-of-the-sexes stuff. As we see her trying to be both masculine and feminine at once, we see how silly both genders can really be.
I wanted to explain the plot a little more, as this is Shakespeare and many people may not be familiar with it, but I was being severely limited in space at this point. While my reviews had slowly gotten to be around 20 inches long (speaking in newspaper terms), I was now being cut down to 12-15. So I had to get to the important stuff and pretend that everyone already knew the plot.