BY STACY NICK • StacyNick@Coloradoan.com
November 13, 2008
There were a lot of funny things about the 1960s: "Laugh-In," Peter
Sellers in "Dr. Strangelove," Nixon's jowls. Now we can add
Shakespeare to that list with director Judith Allen's hippie take on
"As You Like It," resetting the comedy smack dab in the middle of the 1960s.
The story remains the same: Duke banishes brother, takes over duchy,
gets paranoid and banishes his niece, who dresses up like a man and
runs off with her best friend, the duke's daughter. Meanwhile the
niece's new love interest also flees a tyrannical household,
befriends her in disguise, unknowingly tells her of his love for her
and asks for her help to woo his love.
But in Allen's version Duke Frederick becomes your typical
underhanded politico, Rosalind is now a Jackie O/Gloria Steinem-type,
her love interest, Orlando, an idyllic protestor and the magical
Forest of Arden is a hippie commune. At first, the opening protest
scene (subbed in for the traditional wrestling tournament) is almost
too chaotic for Shakespeare, which requires a little more mental
attention than most contemporary comedies. It's tough to gather
what's going on above the roar of the rally cries. But the setting
soon proves to be an excellent transition, providing a more easily
recognizable context for the audience. It's easier to comprehend that
Duke Frederick is a sleazy leader when coupled with L. Michael
Scovel's toothy grin, backslap greetings and gravity defying coif.
The '60s provide a rich backdrop for the play, ripe for the addition
of subtle and not so subtle details such as politicos flashing
Nixon's victory sign and hippies doing tai chi. The "All the world's
a stage" speech takes on an almost Abbie Hoffman-vibe, courtesy of a
stellar performance by Marlin May.
Allen's staging breathes new life into "As You Like It" by making it
more relatable and thus, more entertaining. Much of the credit must
also go to OpenStage Theatre's extremely talented cast.
Sydney Parks mixes feminist feistiness with '60s-style slapstick
(imagine a slightly more aggressive version of "That Girl") as
Rosalind; ditto Brenna Freestone's Celia, who is the Shirley to Parks' Laverne.
Newcomer Adam Beh, as Orlando, also holds his own among a seasoned
cast, which includes strong turns by Charlie Ferrie, Maggie Fee, Sean
Cummings, Ken Benda and Matthew G. Smith. Local actor/singer Kurt
Brighton also provides a fitting '60s era soundtrack, transitioning
the play from one scene to the next.
Kudos also to Janelle Sutton in her debut as a costume designer for
OpenStage; Sutton's inclusion of iconic ensembles such as hippie
fringe vests, Nehru jackets and Jackie's pink suit makes it easy for
the audience to revisit this era.
Shakespeare wrote "As You Like It" in an attempt to recapture a
simpler time of love and peace, and OpenStage has done the work proud
in this groovy take.