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A spirited — and pointed — ‘As You Like It’

Genevieve Simon and the cast of "As You Like It."Nile Scott Studios

MEDFORD — History was made at the Tony Awards last week when Lynn native Alex Newell became the first openly nonbinary performer ever to win a Tony (for “Shucked”), followed quickly by J. Harrison Ghee (for “Some Like It Hot.”)

So it feels very of-the-moment that Actors’ Shakespeare Project and The Theater Offensive are collaborating on a production of “As You Like It” that stars Genevieve Simon, who identifies as nonbinary, in the role of Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most fully-drawn heroines.

The sheer avidity and gusto of Simon’s all-out performance sets the tone for a winningly buoyant production of this pastoral comedy, directed by Harold Steward at Tufts University’s Balch Arena Theatre through Sunday.


Simon’s exuberant portrayal gives us a Rosalind who seems to be discovering the delights of the world for the first time — love, of course, but also the freedom to be fully herself.

With its use of cross-dressing as a means of disguise, “As You Like It” has always contained a built-in invitation to reconsider our assumptions when it comes to gender, sexuality, and identity. Steward takes full advantage of that, foregrounding certain subtextual elements of the play — and, of course, putting Simon at the center of it.

Most of “As You Like It” transpires in the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior (Gabriel Graetz), has ended up after being usurped and exiled by his brother, the short-fused Duke Frederick (Graetz again).

Because of her closeness with her cousin, Celia (Regine Vital), Duke Frederick’s daughter, Rosalind has been allowed to remain at court. In this production, there are hints of romance between Rosalind and Celia. It is Orlando (Mishka Yarovoy), however, with whom Rosalind is most deeply smitten, and he with her.

From left: Doug Lockwood, Regine Vital, and Genevieve Simon in "As You Like It."Nile Scott Studios

To escape his brother Oliver (Jaime José Hernández), who means him deadly harm, Orlando flees to the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from court. Celia decides to accompany Rosalind into exile, and off they go to — where else? — the Forest of Arden. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede, and Celia disguises herself as Ganymede’s sister, Aliena.


The pieces are in place for “As You Like It” to wend its circuitous way through the woods and a series of mix-ups, misunderstandings, encounters with shepherds, and love notes drifting, snowlike, down from the trees — all culminating with a happily-ever-after ending of multiple weddings at once.

Bobbie Steinbach, who recently received the Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence from the Boston Theater Critics Association, is a sauntering, wised-up Jaques. Steinbach nails the world-weary nobleman’s famous “All the world’s a stage” speech, delivering that first line with a certain briskness, as if Jaques is but stating the most self-evident of facts.

The always-welcome Lindsay Eagle amusingly channels a WWE combatant in her portrayal of court wrestler Charles while also playing the role of shepherdess Phoebe, with whom the shepherd Silvius (a very funny Nathan Malin) is entranced (while Phoebe has fallen for Ganymede). Doug Lockwood is entertainingly over-the-top as court fool Touchstone. Also assets are Fady Demian as the servant Adam; Adrian Peguero as Amiens, an attending lord to Duke Senior; and Gavin Rasmussen as country girl Audrey.

In a program note, director Steward writes that this staging of “As You Like It” seeks to be a “counter-narrative” to the “anti-queer legislation and so many false narratives” that are “circulating in our democracy currently — everything from bans on drag queen story hours and performances to legislation that seeks to incite fear and prevent trans people from publicly existing, receiving basic healthcare, education, and legal recognition.”


Serious challenges all, no question, and meriting pushback. What this “As You Like It” reminds us — complete with a memorable visual coda — is that happiness can be its own form of defiance.


Play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Harold Steward. Presented by Actors’ Shakespeare Project in partnership with The Theater Offensive. At Balch Arena Theatre, Tufts University, Medford. Through June 25. Tickets $52.50. 617-241-2200, www.actorsshakespeareproject.org

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeAucoin.