Kate Kennedy, former lead actress for the San Francisco Shakespeare Company, who has presented Shakespeare plays for 38 years in Sonoma, brings one of Shakespeare’s three best comedies for a run at the historic Buena Vista Winery. Her Avalon Players present “As You Like It” at the beautiful fountain courtyard Aug. 14-18 and Aug. 21-25.
The question posed by nearly every character in the play: “Will love conquer all or is love merely madness?” The Bard’s greatest female character, Rosalind, seems to be a director within the play as she and her cousin, Celia, journey side by side to a world of exile. Before she leaves the court, she becomes attracted to the love-struck Orlando.
A mixture of bold cross-dressing by Rosalind and riotous behavior by a court jester combines with a melancholic courtier and a repentant older brother to lead to unique pairings and some redemption for most of the characters. Familiar popular modern tunes join the fun in the Forest of Arden.
And some of the fun comes from the adlibs that Shakespeare might have smiled at mildly as he only wanted to satisfy the audiences. But members of the audience, while enjoying their picnic fares and Buena Vista wine by the bottle or the glass had best beware of the various people in the play who freely lapse from character long enough to help themselves to libations or food. And, unless the night is extremely warm, the spectators are well advised to not sit too close to the fountain where water, at any given moment, may come flying across picnic tables or worse, when players spontaneously fall into or are pushed into the fountain.
The play presents independent women who seek pleasure and romance. Rosalind (Megan Dewees) presents herself as a young man (Ganymede). The actress is challenged to play both male and female parts and to be both lover and love guide. Double meaning, conveyed through language and gestures and facial expressions creates ongoing moments of humor.
Rosalind’s cousin, Celia (Alex Garber) delights the audience as she keeps Rosalind honest. Garber’s timing, movement, voice, and expressiveness captivate the audience as she nearly steals the show.
More fun wit is created by Phebe (Jackie McRice), who is self-absorbed and dismissive of the attention given her by Silvius. And then she falls in love with the woman disguised as a man and the confusion adds to the madness.
And another humorous view of women in love appears in bawdry Audrey (Celeste Larson) as she considers leaving gentle William for Touchstone, the court jester.
A spectrum of male views of love presents itself from the love-sick Silvius (Marcus) to the well-balanced Orlando (Aaron Brenner). Orlando’s brother Oliver (River Behrman) shows that love can transform even those with evil purposes.
Touchstone (Noah Bartolome) represents the extreme of lust and deception and is balanced by the melancholic Jacques (Matt Behrman) who is disillusioned with the life of the court, bitter because he suffers from an incurable disease.
Loyalty of different dimensions appears in the characters of Charles (James Witous), Adam (David Duffield) and a Lord (Kate Duffield).
Duke Senior and Duke Frederick (both played by Darriell Arnott) show extremes of leadership. Arnott plays two distinct characters. Corin (Rob Everett) represents the ideal shepherd and former lover. Corin’s character finds its foil in the child forester (Lillian Arnott) representing the innocence of youth.
Director Kate Kennedy, who starred in the San Francisco Shakespeare Company as Rosalind, kept this lovely and very traditional comedy in check. The humor is soft and loving as her actors embrace this pastoral story with gentleness. She injects gags in subtle and quiet ways. She utilizes the fountain and the lovely winery setting effectively. The pacing and timing suit the words to the actions, to paraphrase Shakespeare through Hamlet.
Expect the audience to get involved with well-known songs such as “California Dreaming,” “Lean on Me” and “I Believe in Miracles.” In any Kennedy production, actors will be involving audience members in singing and dancing. And in this show, one spectator will find himself or herself actually playing a character.
The Avalon Players’ “As You Like It” plays on every night at seven from Aug. 14 to 18 and Aug. 21 through Aug. 25 at the Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, Ca. For more information, visit sonomashakespeare.com or purchase tickets at cellarpass.com.