All the world may be a stage, but when it comes to Shakespeare in Chicago, no venue can serve up the Bard better than the North Shore’s Writers’ Theatre. Its stunning “Othello” last season was so powerful and persuasive that every detail is memorable and fresh nearly a year later, but this production of “As You Like It”—arguably the most joyous and life-affirming work in the Shakespeare canon—is no less engaging. A play of persecuted outsiders, directors often try to outdo themselves attempting to allegorize some specific marginalized group of the moment to make the action “relevant.” And though director William Brown’s production is set in a modern world where the persecutors use helicopters with spotlights to pursue, a lack of national specifics underscores that this could be anywhere. Young and displaced Orlando, as played by Marcus Truschinski, is boyish enough that his temper and conceit can still get the better of him and he has to be naïve enough that say, when he challenges the court wrestler—here done as a pull-no-punches, no holds barred ultimate fighting contest—no one is more surprised than he is when he actually prevails after risking everything when he has nothing to lose, but then again, he has to be tough enough and hungry enough to pull that off. Likewise Rosiland (Tracy Michelle Arnold) has to be attractive and enticing enough to catch Orlando’s eye, but she, too, is a refugee struggling deeply from the inside out with the same issues that Orlando is facing from the outside. But the biggest inspiration is having the band that Orlando and his servant encounter in the forest of Arden be a radical group of guitar-strumming elder beatniks and hippies that sit around campfires and teach Orlando the meaning of life. Veteran Chicago actor Larry Yando delivers the show’s most famous soliloquy with a deliberate and detached cynicism that can only be attained by having played each and every part and having made all of the entrances and exits that are catalogued. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847)242-6000. This production is now closed.