Guest Writer: Madison Tasker
In January I attended the Shakespeare play As You Like It at Center Stage, a performance I was glad I did not miss. Mistaken identities, love, and humor were all plot elements used to hold the audience’s attention. I can guarantee that even the readers of this who do not like Shakespeare’s work would have thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary adaptation.
In Shakespeare’s day, every actor on stage was a man. Center Stage decided to reverse this completely and cast a show of entirely women. I found this to be a great choice because it created an interesting contrast between the past performances and most present-day conventional productions.
In As You Like It, two cousins named Celia and Rosalind escape to the Forest of Arden after Celia was banished from the kingdom. With their new home, they take on new identities. The growth of love shown between Rosalind and Orlando as well as Celia and Oliver are portrayed well with the mistaken identities, creating many miscommunications between the characters. The laughter engendered by these situations made the show a joy to watch. The actors had fantastic chemistry on the stage and they truly brought Shakespeare’s world to life.
The staging was particularly remarkable. In the beginning, the actors marched out in a militaristic manner. Their gestures were harsh and pointed, with the set matching the movements of the actors. The theme of overarching familial and political power was emphasized through the set and movements of this part of the show. However, this whole side of the play stood in direct contrast to the other portion that was set in the Forest of Arden. Once in the forest, the mood of the play changed completely. Tense and uptight movements gave way to flowing and open motions. The costumes went from all black to becoming colorful and loose, adding to the wonderfully vibrant set filled with towering trees, tents, and fake grass replacing the darker, more contemporary, unadorned interior setting. The Forest of Arden set was definitely one of the best parts of the show.
Another key feature about the famous play was the happy music performed by the forest dwellers. The music was bright and full of joy. This is an interesting part of the show because each company that performs it is able to make up different tunes to the same words and customize the instruments and vocal parts. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) used music that was much different in their 2014 iteration. I found that in this current version it was more lively, while at CSC it was soft and light. I loved to observe this difference because it was quite fascinating to see how the show changed with each cast.
The jokes in this production were physicalized well. Since Shakespeare’s language is often considered hard to understand, it is important that the jokes are brought to life through movement as well as dialogue, replicating Shakespeare’s day. I was laughing throughout the entire show because of how well the actors delivered and enacted the jokes. The actors made huge character choices and were committed completely to their parts so they always captivated my attention.
Overall, As You Like It was a huge success. It is always compelling to see Shakespeare’s shows modernized for our current society. I will definitely return to Center Stage to see more of their wonderful interpretations.