Photo by Dita Marina ObertSometimes Shakespeare—or Chris Marlowe or Francis Bacon or the Bavarian Illuminati or whoever really wrote the plays—just didn't try as hard as he could have. Far be it from us to criticize the master, of course, but there are points in As You Like It when you can't help but think, "What the hell, Shakespeare?" Maybe he just needed some quick cash to install a hot tub at the Globe Theatre, or maybe he blew his wad writing Julius Caesarshortly before. Whatever the reason, As You Like It trails far behind canonical comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream or Twelfth Night, and the Chance Theater's Shakespearean debut doesn't imbue the play with the spark it so desperately needs. Instead, this As You Like It ably—and sometimes uncomfortably—demonstrates the sitcom side of Shakespeare. We get the mean parents who interfere with their kids' dating lives, the wacky walk-ons, even the cross-dressing and blurring of traditional gender roles—Bosom Buddies, we hardly knew ye. For a comedy, this production is imbued with an oft-deadly tedium, with actors laboring—valiantly, but laboring nonetheless—to keep the banter light and the mood lighter. You wanna laugh, but you don't quite get the chance, so to speak. Joseph Horn's obsequious Orlando can't maintain the momentum he builds early in the play, making Ramlah Frediani's Rosalind scramble around him. It's the supporting cast that steals the scenes: Erika Ceporius' Celia is a winsome delight, Dimas Diaz brings welcome fluidity to Touchstone, and Brian Page's Duke Senior adds subtle gravitas to a play that tends to drift. But we wish director Jocelyn A. Brown had done more with the 1861 setting—despite the Thoreauvian allusions in the director's notes, it doesn't seem to extend much beyond a few muskets and a lot of breeches. Too bad: Long Beach's loud*R*mouth theater company drew bracing subtext from a Reconstruction-era production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (see the remarkably well-written review of "Southern-Fried Shakespeare," June 29, 2001), and the woody settings of As You Like Itwould seem to lend themselves nicely to Walden Pond. If it were cut down from its current two-and-a-half iambi-tastic hours and had the energy punched up—even Paul A. Castellano's Wolfman Jacques doesn't seem to muster much melancholy enthusiasm for his "All the world's a stage" speech—it'd be a lot easier to like this As You Like It. As it is, it's a gorilla of a play that's got the cast pinned to the stage. Fuckin' Shakespeare. He never makes it easy, does he?
As You Like It at the Chance Theatre, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through June 2. $13-$15.