People are born and live their entire lives in Manhattan and never ride the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, visit the Empire State Building or take in a Broadway show. Some residents of the Grand Canyon State have only seen the Grand Canyon on postcards or T-shirts. Plenty of Floridians have exactly zero pictures of themselves with Mickey and Minnie in front of Space Mountain. And many Colorado natives take perverse pride in never having strapped on skis or a snowboard.
To which I say, “To each his own,” or perhaps in this context, “To thine own self be true.” Just because a monument, huge hole in the ground, theme park or pastime intrinsically linked to your state’s identity is world renowned doesn’t make it mandatory. Still though, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do more than the things they did, so whether you’re a “Native” bumper sticker-flashin’ Coloradan or are still unpacking your U-Haul, treat yourself to the second-longest-running Shakespeare festival in the country, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF).
For the uninitiated, the CSF takes place every summer on the University of Colorado’s bucolic campus here in Boulder. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a student production, because it most certainly isn’t — not that there’s anything wrong with those. The CSF features professional, sometimes even famous (at least regionally) actors, directors and crew members.
This 62nd CSF season presents two of the Bard’s comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, one of his most famous tragedies, Romeo and Juliet, and a “future history” inspired by and in the style of Shakespeare, King Charles III, which was written by Mike Bartlett and has already been adapted into a well-regarded, made-for-TV movie. Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet play in the beautiful and unique Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre. Emphasis on “outdoor,” because there’s nothing like seeing Shakespeare under the open sky. The other two productions appear in the indoor University Theatre, which is a perfectly respectable venue in its own right.
As You Like It is Shakespeare at his romantic-comedy-of-mistaken-identities-culminating-in-multiple-marriages best. By various means and for various reasons, various characters end up wandering around the Forest of Arden. Orlando (Seth Dhonau) is forced into the forest to escape his brother, who has murder on his mind. Orlando, who is deeply, if only briefly thus far, in love with Rosalind (Emily Van Fleet) believes her to still be at court. Little does he realize that Rosalind has been exiled by the mean ol’ Duke Frederick (John Hutton) and is similarly a temporary resident of the Forest of Arden. Orlando suffers so from lovesickness that he goes all First Blogger Ever and literally posts love poems to Rosalind on trees.
Rosalind and her cousin, Celia (Shunté Lofton), happen upon some of Orlando’s missives and, in a nutshell, decide to mess with him. In an effort to protect herself in the dangerous woods, Rosalind is dressed and acting like a man named Ganymede, and it is in that disguise that she encounters Orlando and proceeds to convince him to fake woo Ganymede in order to distract him from his longing for Rosalind.
And that’s all just in the first act! Director Carolyn Howarth’s gambit of having eight actors (Van Fleet, Lofton, Dhonau, Hutton, Leslie O’Carroll, Jihad Milhelm, Josh Innerst and Sean Michael Cummings) play all 19 parts is as successful as it is bold. It results, among other things, in the rare pleasure of seeing local theater legend Hutton play both the hiss-worthy villain Duke Frederick and a tumbleweed, Iggy Pop version of his heroic opposite number, Duke Senior, (not to mention some time spent in drag as country girl Audrey). Similarly, there’s no such thing as too much Leslie O’Carroll, so a double dose of the thespian, as the courtier Le Beau and one of Duke Senior’s men, Jaques, he of the famed, “All the world’s a stage,” soliloquy, is a true boon.
Howarth’s only slightly less risky gamble of including copious musical numbers pays off as well. The songs themselves are enjoyable, and watching this talented group of actors pull double duty as musicians and singers gives As You Like It a wonderfully novel twist.
Summer in Boulder just wouldn’t be the same without the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
ON THE BILL: As You Like It. Through August 10, Colorado Shakespeare Festival at the University of Colorado Boulder, tickets $18 and up, www.cupresents.org.