The Dance Number Big Willie Didn't See Coming 

Even after a quarter century, Richmond Shakespeare keeps us guessing. Even if we already know who's really a lady and who's not.ÿ

"As You Like It," Richmond Shakespeare's most recent undertaking, is also its oldest.ÿ

Eleven years ago, the fledgling company cut into this play, already 400 years old, and have been fine-tuning it ever since. The play, one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies, has all of the ingredients of a great production: girls masquerading as boys, love triangles (and pentagons, quadrangles and other assorted geometric shapes), an abundance of physical comedy and witty dialogue.

And typical of Richmond Shakespeare's unwillingness to present the conventional play, directors Andrew Hamm and Julie Phillips (who refer to themselves as the Masters of Play and of Verse, respectively) incorporate thoroughly modern bits into the works, anachronisms dating back as far back as May 2007. Here the cross-dressing comedy includes a large song-and-dance number near the end in which the cast bursts into an impromptu rendition of the "Soulja Boy?VbCrLf dance.

The actors, for the most part, handle their characters beautifully. Sunny LaRose's Rosalind is strong and endearing, and works well with the love-struck fervor of Orlando (Patrick Bromley). She also has great chemistry with Julia Rigby, who plays her cousin Celia; their scenes are filled with girlish glee and are enjoyable to watch. And as in most of Shakespeare's plays, the court clown delivers many of the best lines; Adam Mincks' brilliantly funny Touchstone is definitely up to the job.

But it's Liz Blake who steals the show. Her role as Amiens in the play's first half allows her to show off her lovely, lilting singing voice -- this is only topped by her portrayal of the crass shepherdess Phebe, who falls madly in love with the cross-dressing Rosalind, in the second half.

The production is not flawless, though. With the exception of the wrestling scene near the opening, the first half becomes dry whenever Rosalind or Touchstone is not onstage. And while the production's several musical numbers work well for Blake, LaRose and Bromley each struggle during their few sung lines.

But "As You Like It?VbCrLf is a charming, funny production that bears the unique, often unexpected flavor that Richmond Shakespeare has spent 23 years stewing.

"As You Like It?VbCrLf finishes its two-week run this Sunday, July 13. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13-$24. Call 1-866-BARD-TIX or visit www.richmondshakespeare.com.


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