“All the world’s a stage/and all the men and women merely players.” The players this time are literal as The British Players take on one of the Bard’s most endearing comedies, “As You Like It.” And this isn’t your grandma’s Shakespeare. Tthis imaginative interpretation takes the Forest of Arden to the Summer of Love—Woodstock in 1969.
This production was so much fun. It was fresh and original, while still staying true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s work…full of heart.
For those unfamiliar, “As You Like It” is primarily the story of Rosalind (Betsy Schugar), daughter of the recently exiled Duke Senior (Bill Bodie), who occupies a tense place in the court of her uncle (and usurper) Duke Frederick (Robert Teachout.) She acts as companion to her cousin Celia (Cecilia Lindgren), but once her uncle’s paranoia grows, she, Celia, and the Duke’s jester, Touchtone (Louis Pangero), all flee to the Forest of Arden. At the same time, Orlando (Timilin Sanders) is also fleeing the attention of his vicious elder brother, Oliver (Jordyn Nicole) with their family servant, Adam (Steven Malone.) They too flee to the forest and are taken in by Duke Senior and his adopted family (Corey Ahearn, Joan Evans, Christine V, Hurst, and Ally Thring), including the grumpy Jaques (Elizabeth Darby). Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are also adopted by a shepherd (Joan Evans.) The paths of Orlando and Rosalind cross briefly before they have to flee. They soon find each other again in the forest, but there’s a small complication—Rosalind is playacting as a young man Ganymede to help protect her virtue. The romantic hijinks do not end there. By the end, there are FOUR couples at the alter, but who will they be? Will Orlando ever know Ganymede’s true identity?
While it might initially seem like a stretch to connect the 1960s and one of Shakespeare’s works, it actually makes a lot of sense when you get into it. The bright and vibrant Forest of Arden strikes a stark contrast to the hard and industrial court, just like Woodstock struck such a different chord to New York City at that time. Also, the wacky shenanigans that befall the residents of the Forest of Arden are reminiscent of the zany sex comedies so popular in the 1960s. The sharp wit of the wordplay also goes together well with the era. One of my favorite Shakespearean insults comes from this play: “I do desire that we be better strangers.”
This production was so much fun. It was fresh and original, while still staying true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s work. It was obvious that director Fred Zirm had a deep knowledge of both the source material and made thoughtful connections to Woodstock and the 1960s, allowing this interpretation to succeed. He also coached his very talented actors through what can sometimes be challenging text. I really enjoyed the casting choice to have some female identifying performers play classically male roles, turning the custom of Elizabethan times of casting female roles with men on its head.
There were also some strong performances from a tight ensemble of actors. Schugar was charming as the play’s primary heroine. This part is not for the faint of heart. Rosalind’s loquacious nature has her reciting long speeches and driving much of the action. Schugar was more than up to this task. Her romantic lead was also incredibly engaging. Sanders was able to balance both the comedic and romantic tones of the story. Lindgren was so endearing as the gentle Celia and she paired well with Nicole, who made Oliver’s very dramatic character shift believable. Pangaro was a standout and brought so many laughs. His fraught relationship with Audrey (Liv Meredith) was definitely a highlight. There is also a comic misunderstanding love triangle between Phebe (also Liv Meredith, impressing in two hilarious roles), shepherd Silvius (Corey Ahearn), and Ganymede, who of course was Rosalind in disguise. Another comedic standout was Bill Bodie, particularly in his short but hysterical role of the royal wrestler. I also loved the interpretation Jaques, who is a former soldier in the play, being a Vietnam vet. It explained a great deal of his melancholy worldview and gave the audience a connection point to his mindset that was so different than the rest of the characters. Overall, this entire cast was so winning and impressed me greatly.
This production was also enhanced by some excellent technical aspects as well. The set was wonderfully adaptable to the starkly different atmospheres of the court and the forest thanks to Scenic Design by Mike Lewis and Claire Palace. Music Director Arielle Bayer and Sound Designer by Matt Mills showed an amazing use of music in this show, both within the story and as ambiance to support the 1960s theme. The costume design by Jennifer Morrissey also supported the time period wonderfully. Producers Lauren Pacuit and Michelle Hessel should be proud of a hilarious production that’s also full of heart.
“We that are true lovers run into strange capers.” While the capers run in “As You Like It” were certainly strange, they were also sweet, comedic, and a whole lot of fun.
Run Time: Approximately two and 30 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
Advisory: Due to some mild violence, this show is best recommended for audiences 13 and older.
“As You Like It” ran March 17-April 1, 2023 by The British Players at Kensington Town Hall
3710 Mitchell St, Kensington, MD 20895. Their upcoming production of the smash British musical “Blood Brothers” is coming June 9-24, 2023. For more information and tickets, visit their website here.