Why the all-star game isn't much of a game

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Antaeus Theatre Company has a problem: they have too many trained actors.

I know that sounds like a blessing but sadly, that's what it feels like in Antaeus' thoroughly generic production of As You Like It."

As is their practice, Antaeus has not just cast a large ensemble, they've cast two large ensembles because every role is shared or "partner cast." Where most theater companies would try and pare the cast down to a manageable eight actors, Antaeus fields two casts of 16. So depending on which night you go you'll see a different cast.

Now, it's a rare pleasure to see an ensemble this large in a theater this small and when an Antaeus production works - it's thrilling. This production of As You Like It, while still strong, is a great example of the artistic challenge they face as a company.

As You Like It feels like that All-Star game.

And would you rather watch the all-star game or the World Series?

World Series, right? Because despite all the talent at the all-star game, there's nothing much at stake so there isn't a real team.

It's clear everyone onstage in As You Like It can play the game. They know what they're saying and why -- no small feat with Shakespeare -- but like that All-Star game, there doesn't really seem to be a home team. Both visually and theatrically, this production feels general. The set is more of a convenient flat backdrop than evocative of a specific court or a passionate forest. The costumes have that "oh-just-put-him-in-a-doublet-and-buy-her-some-brocade" feel that haunts mediocre Shakespeare everywhere.

If you'll allow the extended metaphor, like that All-Star game - even if it's not a great game, there are some great plays. James Sutorius' take on Jacques' "All the world's a stage" is heartbreaking. Steve Hofvendahl's Corin, a shepherd who usually gets short shrift, is hysterical. There are more performances and moments of performances that will strike you, but it feels more like a highlight reel of individual actors than a cohesive whole: you'll see a couple of great scenes but you're not seeing a great play.

And that's the structural issue that Antaeus faces. They're in the business of doing great plays with great actors. As a talented ensemble company dedicated to the classics, it's tempting to feel like that's enough. But as "As You Like It" reveals - that's not enough. There's got to be a bigger "why." There's got to be something at stake, a reason for this production at this moment, a directorial vision that channels all this talent toward a profound goal.

So should you make this trip to the forest of Arden?

Probably. There's enough talent onstage to justify the two hours and thirty minutes, just remember it takes more than a great play to make a great night of theater.

As You Like It plays at the Antaeus Theatre Company in Glendale through September 10.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission.

Photo: James Sutorius in William Shakespeare's As You Like It (Daniel G. Lam Photography)