2008-07-03 / Schools
'As You Like It'
Forsooth and far out! The 12th season of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival kicked off last weekend with the frothy comedy "As You Like It," directed by Kevin P. Kern in his festival directorial debut.
The Bard's classic words are accompanied by music and clothing from the 1970s and performed outdoors at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Can you dig it?
The stage is set beside a creek, home to frogs that croak constantly. A new addition is a 60foot metal grid for hanging the stage lights, allowing for better placement and more coverage.
The multilevel set provides ample space for actors to romp, and the wooden backdrop is carved to resemble tree branches, a nod to the play's Arden Forest setting. Just as in Shakespeare's day, the production uses no furniture or painted sets.
There's plenty of music in the show, although not the type sung by 17th century actors. The Bard's lyrics are set to tunes penned by classic rock musicians. Music by the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and others are played during scene transitions. Two of the actors play guitars. This show is for baby boomers who think they don't like Shakespeare.
The modern clothing adds a playful touch, from ties and suits for the men to fashionable kneelength dresses and heels on the ladies. Minor characters are dressed as hippies.
Updating the play doesn't hurt it but rather demonstrates how Shakespeare's observations about humanity's condition are relevant today.
The tale begins in the orchard of Oliver de Boys (Derek Medina), who treats his brother Orlando (Paul Benz) as a hired hand and refuses to give him a suitable position or education. To escape his brother's tyranny, Orlando visits the court of Duke Frederick (Matthew Gottlieb), where Charles the wrestler (Jarom Christopher Brown) is challenging all comers.
Charles enters dressed as a masked WWF wrestler, and the choreographed fight scene between Charles and Orlando is as entertaining and skillful as a televised match.
Watching the fight are two young ladies: Celia (Jane Elliott), daughter of Frederick, and Rosalind (Caroline Kinsolving), daughter of Frederick's brother, Duke Senior (David Ross Paterson). Frederick has seized the government from Duke Senior, who fled for safety into the forest.
Rosalind and Orlando are smitten, and after the match she gives him a gold locket as a token of her affection. But the couple has no time for lovemaking, as Frederick banishes Rosalind, claiming she is a "traitor" like her father.
Orlando likewise flees, as his brother seeks to kill him. Orlando hides in the forest accompanied by the elderly Adam (Cecil Sutton), a faithful family servant.
To hide from Frederick, Rosalind disguises herself as a man called "Ganymede." Celia joins Rosalind's exile for friendship's sake. They are accompanied by the court jester Touchstone (Brett Elliott), who, in a clever scene of pantomime, teaches Rosalind how to behave like a man.
The first part of the play is heavy going, as it seems everyone is running for their lives. But once the action shifts from the city to the forest, the story is a lighthearted romance that attempts to get no fewer than four couples together: Rosalind and Orlando; Touchstone and Audrey (Tiffani Ann Mills), a young wench; Celia and a man (no spoiler here); and William (Dale Adrion), a shepherd, and Phebe (Kendra Chell), who's in love with "Ganymede."
There's some clever business of Touchstone mocking Orlando's syrupy love poetry and "Ganymede" teaching Orlando how to pitch woo to a lady.
The play contains the famous "Seven Stages of Man" speech delivered by Jaques (Eric Zivot), a worldweary lord of Duke Senior. "Stages" is a cynical commentary on life's futility, how a man gains power only to lose his faculties and end life reduced to a childlike senility.
As is typical in a Shakespeare comedy, the show ends happily with a wedding, although the play takes a long time to conclude once the audience figures out the resolution. The playwright also uses illogical contrivances to resolve the conflicts between the dukes and the brothers.
But no matter. Love is in the air, and the characters dance merrily as George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" closes the show. It's a grand production, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
For maximum comfort, attendees are encouraged to bring bug repellent as well as warm blankets and coats for the chilly night air. Bring low-back chairs for seating and picnic dinners.
Running time is three hours.
For information and reservations, call (805) 493-3455 or visit www.kingsmenshakespeare.org.