Written and first performed about 1599-1600, As You Like It is another great romantic comedy from the "middle" period of Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The immortal Bard based this classic comedy on Rosalynde, a 1590 prose romance written by Thomas Lodge.
The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies, will perform As You Like It June 11-29 in the Studio 6 Theatre in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill. StreetSigns artistic director Dr. Derek Goldman will stage the show with a cast of 18 and a production staff that includes scenic designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Steve Dubay, costume designers Mikyuki Su and Diana Waldier, choreographer Jennifer Clagett, fight choreographer Chris Beaulieu, and sound designer Emily Hanford.
"I read As You Like It first in high school," recalls Derek Goldman, "and I saw a production of it, but dismissed it as one of the more trivial comedies. As I have gotten older, I have fallen in love with it and see it as one of Shakespeare's deepest and richest works."
Goldman explains, "What moves me most about the play is how it dares to envision a world where love and the imagination have the power to transform the selfish cruelty and blind pursuit of wealth and power that dominates political life. The Forest of Arden is a space created by sheer force of the imagination, a magic space of exile where the world of political strife, scandal, and violence is redeemed by the powers of theatrical disguise and invention.
"The play dramatizes the conflict between cruelty and compassion, the court and the country, light and darkness. As such, it emerges as a comic meditation on role-playing and theater itself, and as a celebration of art's transformative power," Goldman says.
He adds, "As the play begins, Duke Frederick (John Murphy) has usurped his brother, Duke Senior (StreetSigns associate artist Rick Lonon), and banished him to the Forest of Arden. Frederick goes on to banish Duke Senior's daughter, Rosalind (Vanessa Leigh Davis, making her StreetSigns debut). Frederick's daughter, Celia (StreetSigns associate artist Sarah Kocz), Rosalind's cousin, flees her evil father with Rosalind and they head, along with Touchstone the clown (StreetSigns associate artist Chris Chiron), to the Forest of Arden.
"Before leaving, though, Rosalind falls in love with Orlando (Lennardo De Laine, making his StreetSigns debut) and he with her after he beats Charles (Carl Martin) in a wrestling match. Orlando had rebelled at being kept a virtual prisoner by his nasty older brother, Oliver (William Stutts). Oliver had conspired with Charles to kill or cripple Orlando in the match, but Orlando manages to throw and injure Charles. Soon after, Orlando flees his older brother, Oliver, after their servant Adam (StreetSigns associate artist Joseph Megel) warns Orlando of Oliver's plans to kill him. Orlando and Adam also flee to the Forest of Arden. Duke Frederick, upon finding Celia, Rosalind, and Orlando missing, orders Oliver to find them, or face banishment himself.
"In the Forest," Goldman says, "Rosalind and Celia, disguised as Ganymede (a male) and Aliena (a poor woman), and Touchstone purchase a shepherd's hut, a flock, and a pasture from two shepherds, Corin (StreetSigns associate artist Jordan Smith) and Silvius (Christopher Salazar). In another part of the forest, the banished Duke Senior discusses the philosophizing of his melancholy Lord Jaques (StreetSigns associate artist Elisabeth Lewis Corley). When Duke Senior meets him, however, Jaques is now merry, having met the clever fool, Touchstone, in the forest. Meanwhile, Orlando has been desperately searching for food, and, with a drawn sword, he enters Duke Senior's banqueting place and demands food. However, Duke Senior greets Orlando with unexpected kindness and welcomes him and Adam to his camp.
"Orlando, knowing that Rosalind is somewhere in the forest, wanders through the forest hanging love verses to Rosalind upon the branches of trees. Rosalind finds the verses, and, pretending to be a male (Ganymede), she talks at length with Orlando about his true love, Rosalind. As Ganymede, she offers to pose as Rosalind and to allow Orlando to practice his wooing with her. Meanwhile, Touchstone is planning his own romance with the dimwitted shepherdess Audrey (Hannah Blevins), though an even dimmer commoner named William (Carl Martin) also seeks Audrey until Touchstone scares him off.
"'Ganymede' witnesses the love affair of Phebe (StreetSigns associate artist Georgia Martin) and Silvius, two shepherds; Phebe treats Silvius coldly and 'Ganymede' chides her for it, but Phebe instantly falls in love with 'Ganymede,' thinking Rosalind is a he. After 'Ganymede' leaves, Phebe decides that she will write a love letter to 'him' and have Silvius deliver it," Goldman says.
"Silvius delivers the letter, and Rosalind decides that she will remedy the situation and help Silvius get Phebe," Goldman explains. "The exiled Oliver finds 'Ganymede' and tells 'him' that, while sleeping in the forest, he was saved from the attack of a lioness by his brother Orlando. Orlando was wounded and asked Oliver to bring a bloody napkin as proof of the fight and as explanation for missing his appointment with 'Ganymede.' 'Ganymede' faints, then pretends that she was faking, though Oliver comes to realize that 'Ganymede' is really Rosalind.
"Orlando and Oliver are now reconciled," says Goldman, "and Oliver tells his brother that he has fallen in love with 'Aliena,' the disguised Celia. They will be married the next day. Orlando returns to 'Ganymede,' still not knowing it is Rosalind. He laments that he cannot marry his Rosalind tomorrow, but 'Ganymede' promises to make it possible via magic. At the wedding, 'Ganymede' reveals that 'he' is actually Rosalind, causing Orlando to rejoice. Additionally, Phebe is forced to marry Silvius since she can no longer marry 'Ganymede.' Now, Hymen (Thomas 'Tekay' King), the god of marriage, marries Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey. After the wedding, Jaques de Boys (Turner Walston), a long lost brother of Oliver and Orlando, arrives with the news that Duke Frederick was converted to good by an old religious man, and has requested that all of the banished people return home and have their estates back."
Derek Goldman, who is also an assistant professor in UNC's Department of Communication Studies/Performance Studies, says, "The set transforms from the cold, severe world of power at the palace to the magical realism of the Forest of Arden.... The lighting is designed to enhance the magical quality of the forest, which we see less as a real place than as a space of the imagination, where anything is possible.... The costumes are designed to have a timeless quality, rather than being rooted in any given period. This again emphasizes Arden less as a real 'historical' place and more as a fantastical space of the imagination."
The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance presents As You Like It Wednesday-Saturday, June 11-14, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 15, at 2 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, June 19-21 and 26-28, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 22 and 29, at 2 p.m. in the Studio 6 Theatre in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill. $14 Friday-Saturday and $12 Thursday and Sunday. (NOTE: StreetSigns also offers student rush, senior discounts, and group rates.) 919/843-3865. http://www.streetsigns.org/.