As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by Maria Aitken
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F Street N.W., Washington, DC — Through December 20, 2009
A Review by Grace Cavalieri
Let us revisit the original play that Shakespeare wrote. As You Like It is said to have been written in about 1600 and published in a “folio” in 1623. The plot is thin but the language is more than abundant .It is based on a novel, Rosalynde by Thomas Lodge. Our heroine Rosalind (played to the hilt by Francesca Faridany) is banished from her uncle’s court. With her cousin Celia (Miriam Silverman) and Touchstone the Jester (Floyd King), she flees to safety to the Forest of Arden and –cutting to the final chase -- finds true love. Rosalind marries her Orlando (the versatile John Behlmann).
That is the summation, but just wait to hear what Director Aitken does with it. She turns it into a film, and the making of a film; so, we have a play, the process of a play, and the playing of filmmaking, beginning with a prelude. Strobe lights create a silent film. This prologue is of Rosalind’s childhood tragedy, (McKennah Edmunds) ripped away from a father, who is taken prisoner. The melodrama and music are perfect as precursor to Shakespeare’s world now about to turn into cinema. Scene 1: the cast proceeds into Shakespeare’s own era, film noir, actors cast in grays, blacks, a monochromatic beginning to an increasingly emphatic production.
Rosalind will become a boy named Ganymede and Celia will be disguised as Aliena. Now we have a movie set. The present day will conduct us through history still in Shakespeare’s tongue: 1670 Immigration, New Amsterdam; Then, 1775, 1776 Valley Forge. The cameraman reminds us that point of view makes reality and reality is only a moment by moment thing repeated, depending on point of view. Murals projected on stage are backdrops to the American Revolution, patriotism, slavery, war, conciliation. Aitken takes permission to make Arden into many stage sets, all interspersed by “CUT!” The camera ends each sequence. Satire and farce are used more often than intended by Shakespeare but successful enough to fulfill Director Aitkin’s aims. She is making myth. It is a layering of American history upon Shakespeare's text. When Arden becomes a plantation in the south (mural projection of a Gone with the Wind Homestead), the actors now have southern accents. In 1865, the scene is of a ruined plantation. Orlando, a civil war soldier of the south, meets our male version of Rosalind. She entices him to make loving advances to her as a substitute for his heart’s longing, and to expel his obsession with Rosalind.
It may be with relief that viewers see this edition of AS YOU LIKE IT, because it is a play of soliloquies and speechifying, wit -- rich with metaphor and simile, in longish monologues. Next scene: 1880, then 1885, the Wild West, 1892, oil country (one of the most cohesive and successful of the discrete scenes). Compared to other of Shakespeare's works, the language has more psychological action than the characters. The Director makes up for lack of character motivation with speech at her service, at one point lifting the lines to evangelical ecstasy. This is all a tribute to America’s energy, nowhere more evident than the year 1922, in the flapper era. Famous Hollywood characters assume roles: Mae West, WC Fields, Groucho Marx and more icons. The character Phebe (Anjali Bhimani) is a glorious Dolly Parton. 1933: In a night club, the highlight of the scene is a song, Shakespearean lyrics
‘Hey Nonny Nonny', swing/ jazz sung by Corin (Raphael Nash Thompson).
And what would a Maria Aitkin love scene be without cupid descending on a wire from the rafters, as Orlando says his famous words, ”If there be truth in sight you are my Rosalind”, and what would the highlight of a glittering part of American history be without the cast dancing the Charleston. Arden is only a place we call Arden, director Aitkin is saying. And reality is what an eye sees, via camera or otherwise. This is the play with memorable speeches, among them ‘All the world’s a stage’, delivered by “melancholy wanderer” Jaques (Andrew Long). This is the play of the well quoted phrase “Too much of a good thing”. Aitken is not afraid of excess and we’re happy for her incorrigible spirit. Now THAT’s American!
Grace Cavalieri is a poet and a playwright. She produces "The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" for public radio. www.gracecavalieri.com.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Directed by Maria Aitken. Lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, Martin Desjardins; music director, Barbara Irvine; dance choreography, Daniel Pelzig; voice and dialects, Gary Logan; fight choreography, Brad Waller. With Mark Capri, Todd Scofield, Elliot Dash, Barnaby Carpenter, Ted van Griethuysen, Anjali Bhimani, Raphael Nash Thompson, James Konicek, Beth Glover. 3 hours, one intermission. Through Dec. 20 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. call 202-547-1122.