Photo By: Streetcar Crowsnest

As You Like It at Streetcar Crowsnest is a reimagining of William Shakespeare’s comedy, directed by Cliff Cardinal. Cardinal brings his magnetism and proficiency in storytelling to the production, making it uniquely his own. Anyone who has enjoyed his work in the past will find something to like about this production.

In Fall 2019 he performed in his original play Huff at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre. Huff is a devastating one-man show that teeters back and forth between dark comedy and tragedy. Cardinal used voice and physicality to bring the story to life and infused it with laughs; sometimes comedic and sometimes uncomfortable.

During the pandemic he performed as Orestes in Tarragon Theatre’s virtual production of Euripides’ Orestes, which incorporated social media and modern fame into the Greek tragedy. Cardinal was just as good in a role in an ensemble as he is alone, though the electric quality of seeing him perform in-person was lost.

When As You Like It was originally conceived in 1599. Shakespeare was using pastoral comedy to appeal to audiences with comedy and social commentary. As the title suggests, it was designed to appeal to every taste. Any contemporary production of the play must keep the intention of the playwright in mind when staging it and I would argue that, in his own way, Cardinal is true to those intentions in his unexpected, funny, heartbreaking, and enraging take on the play. It is like nothing you have seen before or will likely see again.

If you want to know what is happening in contemporary theatre in the face of impending climate crisis and in the wake of the discovery of thousands of children’s bodies at the sites of residential schools, this is it. After over a year of digital productions, As You Like It may not be the return to in-person theatre you expect, but it is likely the return that Canadian audiences need right now. Cardinal interrogates humanity’s inability to respond to tragedy by taking a timeless classic and using it to speak to everything that is on the minds of Canadians today.

This is a theatrical experience audiences will no doubt be thinking about every time they see Shakespeare or set foot in a theatre from now on. For better or for worse.

At times the play dragged, lost the plot, or got a little gimmicky. The thing about Cardinal though is that he could probably eat a sandwich on stage, and I would want to see it. But it’s hard to find somewhere to stand with this production. I don’t like As You Like It very much compared to Shakespeare’s other comedies and comedic plays in general, but this production felt worth it. It is bizarre and confusing, but also brilliant and absurd.