As You Like It

ster director Joel Swetow explores the darkness in Shakespeare's pastoral idyll to find shadows in its sunshine while clearly defining battle lines of good and evil and blending his cast of Co-op stalwarts (plus some A Noise Within regulars) into a sparkling ensemble. The play's action flows like that in a modern film, beginning with verbal and physical violence that culminates in a brilliantly executed wrestling match intended to silence noble Orlando's escalating complaints against his powerful older brother, Oliver, who grievously cheats and mistreats him. Orlando doesn't have a chance against invincible wrestler Charles, the court's towering champ, but, miraculously, defeats Charles while winning the heart of fair Rosalind and incurring Oliver's wrath. Orlando flees to the forest of Arden, sylvan sanctuary for good people, including Rosalind's father Duke Senior, his dukedom unjustly seized by his evil brother, Duke Frederick. Also banished by Frederick, Rosalind, too, flees, disguised in masculine attire as the youth Ganymede, accompanied by her loyal cousin, Celia, disguised as a shepherdess. Lovesick Orlando covers Arden's trees with paeans to Rosalind; the courtship gets tricky when he and "Ganymede" meet.It's treatment, design elements, and acting that make this As You Like It irresistible. Robert Standley, gorgeous as John the Baptist/Judas of Co-op's Godspell, is a sweetly sincere Orlando, who ponders deeply what he says. Nan McNamara is a spirited, peaches-and-cream Rosalind of ready wit?soul sister to Much Ado's Beatrice. Marianne Savell's effervescent Celia is a lively delight. Frederick Mancuso gives wrestler Charles an intriguing air of unplumbed depth with his enigmatic smile. The villains are fascistic: Greg Baldwin's sneering, ill-tempered Duke Frederick, and Ken Merckx's harshly militaristic Oliver (later transformed by Arden's magic into Celia's docile suitor).Never did play have more lyrical speeches or familiar quotes ("all the world's a stage," etc.); never did forest harbor more colorful inhabitants. Jeff Charlton delivers his famous lines with panache, a Jaques more popinjay than melancholy. Jack Kandel exudes goodness as gently smiling Duke Senior, attended by sweetly singing lords: Mancuso again, Daniel Roche, and lead singer Stephen Van Dorn. (They bear a dead stag on a pole through the forest.) Tim Woodward's jaunty Touchstone, as loquacious as Jaques, takes a fancy to Dorothy Elias-Fahn's bouncy shepherdess Audrey. Goatherd Phebe, bucolic of a different stripe as played with vigor by Mary Faulkner, settles for a man she can get, Russ Taylor's bumpkin Silvius. Kyle Koester, Jonathan Vermeer, Richard Voigts, and James Karr ably complete the cast. The exceptional design team is Yakovetic (set), J. Kent Inasy (lighting), A. Laura Brody (costumes), Peter Stenshoel (original music), David Michael Erwin (sound), Victoria Profitt (props), Merckx (fight choreography), Julietta Marcelli (dance choreography), and Pamela Vanderway (voice and speech consultant).The play ends with dancing and joy unbounded at a mass wedding. Suddenly a threatening roar of bombers fills the air, the music stops, the dancers freeze. Darkness is still out there. But sun shines in Arden. The dance must go on. It does. Swetow's creative direction adds insight and nuance to the classi