Consider this a well-deserved Like for “As You Like It” at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. As part of the company’s Americana-themed summer repertory season, the production resets Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy in the post-Civil War Deep South, an overlay that shrewdly amplifies the original’s themes of land and loyalties divided.
Director Ellen Geer has artfully mapped the play’s opposing city-based ruling faction and forest-dwelling exiles into respective occupying Union and rebel Confederate camps, and supplemented the musical interludes with authentic Civil War-era folk songs.
The text’s extensive reliance on plain prose rather than ornate metered verse is particularly conducive to the minor vocabulary tweaks and Southern accents needed to make the resetting work.
Thankfully, Geer is far too savvy and respectful of her source to let implicit racial and political issues eclipse the play’s charms. Heightening the trauma of brother pitted against brother in an older generation of generals (both played by Thad Geer) and younger siblings (Colin Simon, Frank Weidner), the resetting still focuses on the timeless gifts of redemption and forgiveness brought about through the wiles of gender-disguised Rosalind (Willow Geer) and the life-renewing environs of Arden forest.
The production reaches its playful romantic crescendo as lovesick characters circle the stage in pursuit of their targets while bemoaning their unrequited passions. As the misanthropic Jaques, mutton chop-whiskered Melora Marshall presents a unique and very specific basis for the character’s signature melancholy.
The outdoor amphitheater’s rustic Topanga Canyon backdrop is a perfect fit for the material, making it an understandable choice to run all performances in the afternoon. For a play about the healing power of the natural order, you couldn’t ask for a better scenic designer than nature itself.
“As You Like It,” Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. 3:30 p.m. performances in repertory through Sept. 26; for schedule (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com. $26–$39.50. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.