Shakespeare can be funny

As an English major, with a less than loving relationship with Shakespeare’s work, it seems odd to admit that Shakespeare can actually be hilarious. What can I say? It’s just plain funny, especially when performed by as talented a cast as this one. The Royal Shakespeare Company is the cast I speak of, presenting a showing of mastery in their production of “As You Like It.”

The stage in the Eisenhower Theater (Kennedy Center) is simply set, a fact that accentuates the show’s more complex props. Such props include human beings playing sheep and a blanket of snow which, becomes a sort of cloud, dusting snowflakes throughout the scenes. The simplicity of the scenes serves a contrast to the rich meaning of Shakespeare’s words and the admirable talent of the RSC players.

The classic themes of love are used in a way that add rather than detract from the complex story line. Nevertheless, as it is Shakespeare, it is also complex.

Celia is the daughter of Frederick, a duke who has just usurped the throne of another duke. Rosalind is the banished duke’s daughter, and she and Celia have formed such a close bond that they are more like sisters than cousins.

When Frederick banishes Rosalind, the two disguise themselves as country folk and enter the Forest of Arden to find Senior, the former duke, now in hiding. In entering the forest, Rosalind also finds love as she re-meets the young Orlando.

Every character is portrayed by a more than capable actor. Martin Hutson is a likable protagonist from the beginning. Convincingly, he plays the lovelorn Orlando with adorable awkwardness and irresistible enthusiasm. The object of his desire, Rosalind, is depicted by the smooth but silly antics of Nina Sosanya. Lightening the mood when tension mounts during certain scenes are the charming Celia (Naomi Frederick) and the hysterically jumpy Frederick’s Fool (John Killoran).

The major flaw with this play is that Shakespeare has too much going on, leading not only to a lengthy performance (more than three hours), but also too many cross plots. In the end, the tales tie together, in a satisfying conclusion. But until that point, the unrequited love is slightly confusing.

The love story of Orlando and Rosalind touches the audience on a personal level, while the scenes of Frederick’s Fool are quite entertaining.

The actors manage to untangle the romantic webs and make Shakespeare’s archaic language come poignantly to life. The play was performed just as I like it.

“As You Like It” is playing at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., through May 18.

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