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The Guthrie makes Shakespeare fresh and funny with 'As You Like It'

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Minneapolis may still be crushed under a thick blanket of white, but spring is now available in 150-minute doses at the Guthrie Theater. The blossoming effect of As You Like It extends beyond the refreshing costumes and the play’s optimistic themes: The production evinces a vibrant spirit of renewal in our theater community.

Of course, things aren’t all sunshine and daffodils. Duke Frederick (Chris Thorn) has exiled his own brother, Duke Senior (also Thorn), before the story even starts, and it doesn’t take too long for Frederick to send his brother’s daughter, Rosalind (Meghan Kreidler), packing as well.

Hope springs eternal, though, and in one of the funniest among the show’s many amusing scenes, Duke Senior tries to rally his banished court to embrace their new men-of-the-woods status. The duke’s shivering associates aren’t buying his Bold North pitch, but Rosalind isn’t about to let her rustic togs or hidden identity stop her from pursuing a relationship with fellow exile Orlando (Jesse Bhamrah).

It’s not Shakespeare’s most compelling plot, but director Lavina Jadhwani is much more concerned with the way the characters respond to their changing fortunes. From beginning to end, this production revels in the spunky resourcefulness of these downwardly mobile nobles.

In her Guthrie debut, Jadhwani proves to be one of the most lucid Shakespeare interpreters the theater has employed in recent years. That’s evident from the show’s opening moments, when Orlando gets bounced from a nightclub reminiscent of Studio 54. A confrontation with his brother Oliver (Luis Vega) establishes the scrappy underdog, and we’re rooting for him as he takes on Frederick’s wrestling champion (Brandon Dahlquist) with Rosalind and her cousin Celia (Andrea San Miguel) stopping to gawk on their way home from the gym.

Kreidler’s been rising steadily for years, and given this role on the region’s most illustrious stage, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand as Rosalind commands the situation with style. She’s officially a star, and her chemistry with San Miguel makes them an instantly iconic pair of heroines.

Jadhwani amplifies the female-forward energy by giving two plum supporting roles to women as well, although they were written as male. Sarah Agnew proudly declares her noble clown Touchstone’s love for the goofy goatherd Audrey (Marika Proctor), and Angela Timberman burns down the house with Jaques’ famous “all the world’s a stage” speech, which gains new resonance when the actor detailing men’s predictable posturing is a woman.

Costume designer Ilona Somogyi, scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee, and composers Broken Chord set an appealing stage for the show, which bursts with the kind of infectious fun that more ostensibly accessible plays often strain for and fall short. The theater regularly rocks with the kind of laughter you don’t often hear at a Shakespeare show: genuine, spontaneous, universal. It makes the centuries-old Bard seem young again.

As You Like It
Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
612-377-2224; through March 17