We speak often of William Shakespeare’s psychological insight and beautiful language, but the Guthrie Theater’s “As You Like It” spotlights something that’s often overlooked: Shakespeare the horndog.
The lust quotient is high in a large cast of characters that eventually includes four sets of lovers, led by shepherdess Phoebe (Sun Mee Chomet). Her growly come-ons would seem to be enough to convey to Ganymede that she’s into him, but, just to make sure he gets what she’s throwing down, the playful Chomet’s Phoebe is literally drawn to him by her pelvis, which seems to have a mind of its own.
Meanwhile, Sarah Agnew’s fleet-tongued Touchstone, who might not love Audrey (Marika Proctor) but is willing to marry her in order to hook up with her, bops around the Guthrie’s thrust stage like a raw, inflamed nerve.
Passion and joy fuel Lavina Jadhwani’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, its love-is-love theme underscored by the casting of women in several roles usually played by men.
We’ve all seen Shakespeare that seems desperate to hide the play by ladling on slapstick and musical numbers, but this production doesn’t need to tack on extraneous stuff because it finds all of the humor and brightness that Shakespeare put there in the first place — including, as it happens, lots of music. Beginning with a gender-bending, Pucci-knockoff-clad Motown salute and extending all the way to the dance-party finale, this production isn’t just funny. It has funny bones.
As Rosalind, a duke’s daughter in exile who gets to spy on boyfriend Orlando when she disguises herself as Ganymede, Meghan Kreidler anchors the play with her good-humored intelligence. In classic rom-com style, her Rosalind is smart about everyone’s love life but her own.
The comedy is mostly misdirection and contrivance — the plot finds a dozen characters venturing into a semi-magical forest, where many find love — but Jadhwani’s actors play it real.
That’s especially true of Angela Timberman’s crabby Jaques, who speaks the famous “Seven Ages of Man”/“All the world’s a stage” speech, bemoaning our tendency to let our lives slip away. (Timberman is the Rachel Maddow of “As You Like It,” dour but hilarious — except she does the cabbage patch and has a magnificent swoosh of gray hair that I suspect Twin Cities stylists are copying even as you read this.)
Taking a cue from Shakespeare’s references to his other plays, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” Jadhwani positions this “As You Like It” in the merriest corner of a sort of Shakespearean Theatrical Universe, with an onstage street sign indicating that the lands of Illyria (“Twelfth Night”) and Elsinore (“Hamlet”) are not far away.
The tragedy of “Hamlet” may be not far away, either, but, with an onstage wrestling match and music that ranges from Motownesque to country to beardo folk, the sense of this “As You Like It” is that maybe we need to take a break from that. Maybe for an hour or two we need to have fun.