For those of us who prefer our Bard Of Avon short and sweet, Denise Devin is back with another of her hour-long Shakespeare Short Cuts, the result of which is an As You Like It exactly as you (and I) like it.
I have no idea how director-adapter Devin does it, but the Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group treasure has once again managed the miraculous: trimming an Elizabethan classic down to less than half its usual running time while retaining major plot points and still having time to insert a bit of ‘60s pop.
It’s all there in sixty lickety-split minutes:
• The rivalry between brothers Orlando (Alxander Jon) and Oliver (Zack Zoda) for the approval of their father Sir Roland de Bois;
• The wrestling match that pits a sexy shirtless Orlando against a masked bruiser (Zoda again) that our svelter hero somehow manages to win, in so doing catching the eye of the fair Rosalind (Michaela Slezak);
• Orlando’s flight into the Forest Of Arden, his faithful servant Adam (Patrick Beckstead) in tow
• Rosalind’s donning of male drag as “Ganymede,” her own faithful companion “Aliena,” in actuality her cousin Celia (Heather McConnell), by her side;
• Feuding Dukes Senior (Roger K. Weiss) and Frederick (Rick Barreras), lovesick shepherd Silvius (Beckstead again) and his farm-girl dream girl Phebe (Monet Hendricks), court fool Touchstone (Jason Britt) and his dream honey the not so bright Audrey (Elif Savas), Audrey’s would-be swain William (Beckstead yet again), and last but not least, the incurably mopey Jacques (Jonica Patella).
To keep things moving at a breakneck pace, the very second that one set of characters exit through Door A, another set enter through Door B, razor-sharp timing that would do any French farce proud.
In addition, Devin once again invents ingenious ways to make use of Zombie Joe’s “upstairs window” to audience delight.
Shakespeare aficionados can rest assured that performances are in more than capable hands, the Zombie Joe team of regulars and newcomers displaying a mastery of delivering Elizabethan English in iambic pentameter comprehensible to 21st-century ears.
Jon and Slezak are as attractive and talented a pair of lovers as any romantic could wish for, the former a pretty darned dreamy Orlando, the latter acing both girl-next-door Rosalind and her spunky male alter ego Ganymede.
McConnell’s Celia makes for a terrific “Ethel” to Slezak’s “Lucy,” Patella is a pint-sized commando as Jacques (with a delightful take on his “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy), and Weiss does his accustomed fine work as Duke Senior.
Britt makes for a fool-icious Touchstone and a faithful Dennis, the former played opposite Savas’s effervescent Audrey doubling as a mucho macho Lord Amiens.
The rest of the cast undertake double, triple, and even quadruple roles.
Beckstead proves a scene-stealer as a pair of lovelorns (Silvius and William) and as the feeble-bodied Adam.Hendricks shines both as comely country maiden Phebe and deliciously mustachioed Monsieur Le Beau. Barreras makes a strong impression in three roles: as Duke Frederick, elderly shepherd Corin, and marriage god Hymen. As for Zoda, though his chunky wrestler proves no match for Orlando in the ring, his Oliver, Martext, and Forester are all winners.
Devin and Charlotte Quarie have designed a charming set of Elizabethan costumes that, along with Savas’ fanciful “tree art,” prove that magic can take place even in an otherwise bare blackbox space.
As You Like It is produced by none other than Zombie Joe himself.
Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream before it, Denise Devin’s As You Like It, makes for sweet, sassy, spicy, sensational Shakespearean frolic and fun … and does it all in barely an hour!
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
June 5, 2016
Photos: Zombie Joe’s Underground