Tiny swords + big bow ties = comedy. John Ulman

As You Like It is Hamlet's older sister—the wisecracking older sister who was way more fun to hang out with and maybe even smarter than her famously brooding younger brother, but whose happy life was overshadowed by his tragic, drama-queen death.

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That's more than just a convenient metaphor. Scholars think As You Like It (Shakespeare's sharp comedy about the crossdressing Rosalind, who is banished to the merry, anarchic forest of Arden after a wrestling match gone wrong) was written just before The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. You can hear literary ripples between the two: Rosalind's dark wit and puns, for example, precede some of Hamlet's wordplay, and someone drowns in a stream—but it's comedy instead of Ophelia's better-known tragedy.

Why, over the past 400 years, has As You Like It been swallowed up by Hamlet's shadow, even though it contains fantastically funny dialogue and famous lines like "All the world's a stage" and "Too much of a good thing"? Maybe because it's a comedy and people prefer tragedy. Maybe because its main character is a woman. Maybe because of its silly, deus ex machina, solve-all-the-plot- problems-in-one-speech conclusion. (Which is unfortunate but true—the play's best bits are in the middle. One gets the sense that Shakespeare started it under duress, relaxed and let his genius do its thing for a while, and then had to finish it in a hurry.)

As You Like It might also be one of Shakespeare's most subversive plays. It begins with some complicated exposition involving a sadistic statesman who makes a power grab that turns everyone's lives upside down. (Actor Ray Gonzalez, directed by George Mount, effectively ramps up the sadism to give contrast to the rest of the play's comedy—he's a cold, cruel Hannibal Lecter kind of character that you would not want to meet in a dark alley.)

All of the good characters are either banished or choose to leave the dukedom. They head for the forest of Arden, where they form a free, happy society outside of the rule of law. Everyone there lives equally. Royalty and rustic shepherds and goofball clowns play music together and fall in love with each other. They share their food with strangers. They have parties and some of the best, funniest conversations in the history of English literature. Quoting lines here will be like playing a tiny violin sample of a symphony—it only makes sense if you hear all the instruments playing together. But there are some quotable short bits, like the marriage conversation between Orlando (a tall, dark, and handsome Nathan Graham Smith) and Rosalind (a short, dark, and beautiful Hana Lass, whose character is much smarter than her suitor):

Orlando: And wilt thou have me?
Rosalind: Ay, and twenty such.
Orlando: What sayest thou?
Rosalind: Are you not good?
Orlando: I hope so.
Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

Doesn't quite translate onto the page, does it? But it works beautifully and touchingly on the stage.

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David Pichette, one of Seattle's favorite actors, has given one of his best performances to date as Jacques (pronounced "Ja-kweez"), the nihilistic, Nietzschean comedian who rubs his forehead sadly while he meditates on existentialist themes. From one of his comically melancholy monologues about the progress of human life: "And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe. And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot. And thereby hangs a tale." Darragh Kennan plays Touchstone, a more enthusiastic and lusty comedian, a clown who chooses to leave the court for the forest and falls in love with a peasant. Kennan is a nice counterpoint to Pichette's melancholy. They're both witty joke-tellers, but Touchstone leans toward life and being while Jacques leans toward nothingness.

The anarchic forest of Arden, with its banished inhabitants, is a marvelous place to linger. When Rosalind is first banished and sets out for the forest with her friend Celia (Rebecca Olson), she says: "Now go we in content to liberty, and not to banishment." By the end of the play, with that deus ex machina monologue announcing that everyone can come back to the duke's court, one wonders why anyone would. recommended