'As You Like It' opening night, nuanced, strange, hilarious
Courtesy Photo / Roger Ellis
GVSU students Ann Dilworth and Joe Cox will be playing the roles of Rosalind and Orlando
The crowd that gathered in front of the Louis Armstrong Theater for Friday’s opening performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” was kicking around a nervous energy. Fellow students, supportive theater majors, parents, grandparents and others populated the relatively modest turnout.
Greeters dressed in Shakespearian-era costumes milled about the crowd in character selling snacks in support of the program – a sort of awkward mix of contemporary and classic reminiscent of a renaissance fair. It was then I hoped there might be a fantastically large turkey leg in one of the maiden’s baskets – no such luck – it seemed we were all in for a meatless and traditional Shakespearian performance. This was not the case.
As the lights came up on the first scene it was apparent that the only traditional aspect of this performance was going to be eloquent language of the 1600s.
“As You Like It” is a slick and twisted yarn spun around the complicated romances between a treacherous young court and a gentrified posses of exiles. Most of the play takes place in the forest with the characters cavorting and pining for love amongst the trees.
Traditionally “As You Like It” is often performed outside to enhance the appearance of the woods, but the production for this performance opted instead for a rather simple set that utilized the entire space of theater, including the lanes between the sections of seats. The forest trees were topped with large green balloons and in the background sat only a couple of stair sets and ramps. Benches and tables were moved in and out between scenes and the trees were rearranged at almost every lowering of the lights.
The lean stage dressing put an exceptional amount of audience attention on the actors, and the long-winded monologues dominated the small theater. The veteran actors, Paul Riopelle and Scott Wright, along with the versed GVSU alumnus Scott Lange exacted a very muscular and stylish portrayal of their respective characters. They steamed a hearty bravado into the play delivering the difficult language with precise intonation and natural mannerisms, though it was the court jester Touchstone, played by Sean Kelley, who drew the most laughs with a casual and hilarious disposition that hinged on the countless innuendos, almost all of which revolved around varying degrees of libido.
Costumes were a hodgepodge of styles from 19th century formal wear to 21st century sneakers and hunting gear, along with a set of attractive and glittering dresses worn by a troupe of singers.
As the play bounded on, the nervous energy faded from the crowd as well as the actors and both fell into a comical symbiotic rhythm. The production as a whole proved itself to be very accessible for those who may not be well acquainted with Shakespeare. The informal nature of the play gave a satirical and contemporary swagger to genre and in this instance Shakespeare became modern, fun and vibrant. It was almost interactive as the actors occasionally addressed the crowd using elements of sarcasm and comedy drawn from popular culture.
The play ended in a triumphant musical number melding the genres of southern barn-burning fiddle and hip-hop as the stories’ plots were summed and reflected upon by a trio of rapping divas that stirred in this writer’s mind thoughts of Princess Bride.
In total, director Roger Ellis and crew put on a charming and nuanced performance laced with comedy, relevance and classic wit that translated well in spite of such sparse physical sets.