As You Like It written sometime between 1588 and 1600, is one of the most beloved romantic comedies by Shakespeare. Shakespeare used, as its source, Elizabethan physician and poet Thomas Lodge’s prose romance Rosalynde or Eupheus Golden Legacy (1590), which was inspired by a fourteenth-century poem The Tale of Gamelyn.
Ohio Shakespeare Festival (OSF) opened its 16th season at the outdoor stage located in the lagoon area of the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron, Ohio with this play As You Like It (directed by Terry Burgler). The performance takes place on a stage 12 feet (depth) x 32 feet (length) x 20 feet (height) which is surrounded by trees, flowers, meadow, and two “tea houses” (tower structures built by Frank Siberling, who built this estate as well as being the co-founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company). In this setting, the performers lure the audience to the forest of Arden, and a romantic comedy with music, songs, dance, stage combat, and the magic.
Following its long tradition, the OSF performance presents a Greenshow which starts half an hour before the curtain. Dressed in green, most of the performers in As You Like It participate in the Greenshow, singing and dancing to traditional English and Irish folk songs and original parodied songs. OSF’s green show, which originally started with one song before the performance, has evolved into a substantial part of the program, preparing the audience to enjoy the “main dish” of the evening.
As You Like It is a comedy yet is poignant in portraying human beings who are consumed with greed, jealousy, and hatred. This is highlighted, in As You Like It, in the contrast between the court and the woods, where the characters ask existential questions about materialism vs. spirituality and life vs. death. The play’s philosophical observation about the reality of transient life and humans’ blindness to it might be summarized in one of the famous Shakespeare lines: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” (2.7). The play also introduces a woman character in male-disguise and depicts the (miraculous) possibility of human’s transformation from greedy to benevolent. Ohio Shakespeare Festival theatricalizes these questions and transformations through its physical, musical, and audience participatory approach.
The pre-Arden scenes—before Rosalind, her cousin Celia, and the court jester Touchstone flee from the court and Orlando with his eldest brother’s servant Adam from their family home to the woods—are used to establish the characters’ respective situations and circumstances. In the OSF’s production, this exposition is spiced up by a wrestling match between Charles, a court wrestler, and Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys. Joe Pine, as Charles, shows off his masculine, bare chest, while Orlando played by Ryan Zarecki tries to emulate him. A well-choreographed fighting routine (choreographed also by Ryan Zarecki) includes Orlando being flipped over to the floor by Charles several times until Orlando finally throws Charles to the ground and jumps on him, winning the match. Zarecki as Orlando actually jumps on the space next to Pine as Charles using an entertaining and thrilling tactic common in "professional" wrestling matches.
The Forest of Arden contrasts the court, which is described by the banished Duke Senior, described as the life of “painted pomp”—it is infested with hatred, deception, and usurpation. Of the many “philosophers” in As You Like It the OSF production focuses on two. One is the nature-loving, melancholic Lord Jaques, performed by Jeff Knox, and the other is Corin, the shepherd, performed by Karen L. Wood. Knox, dressed in all black like a Prince Hamlet, suffers from his self-absorbed melancholia, delivering his philosophical inquiries in a poetic manner. Wood’s shepherd loves all creatures on earth, including her ewes but does not care about “good manners at the court,” a place which is “ridiculous” and “unclean.” Wood draws a contrast between the court and the country while she and Touchstone are fishing, emphasizing the shepherd’s life of tranquility and peace, and patience. Andrew Gorell’s Touchstone, who becomes befriended by both Jaques and Corin, demonstrates his wits and develops his own logic and reason against these philosophers.
Tess Burgler’s Rosalind transforms from a plain lady (the niece of Duke Frederick, played by Katie Zarecki) to a vivacious lad called Ganymed with wits and strength in contrast to Sara Coon’s “lady-like” Celia. Ryan Zarecki’s Orlando shows youthful charm in contrast to his eldest brother Oliver, played by Dean Coutris as an arrogant and ambitious head of the family. David McNees portrays a likable Duke Senior, who has experienced (before the play begins) his own transformation in the forest into a man who enjoys life “without public haunt.” Trevor Buda’s Silvius and Lara Mielcarek’s Phebe serve as a lower-class counterpart to Orlando and Rosalind. The “quartet” of Silvius, Phebe, Orlando and Rosalind in scene 1.2 provides one of the most “musical” and lively scenes in the show.
The costumes, designed by Marty LaConte, have the shape and texture of Elizabethan period costume, in line with Ohio Shakespeare Festival's commitment to staging Shakespeare’s work within the style of the Globe Theatre. LaConte avoids buttons, hooks, zippers, and visible machine seams. LaConte’s choice of Jaques’s black costume and Touchstone’s patchwork costume are particularly creative. Ohio Shakespeare Theatre is also known for its use of direct address to the audience. About three quarters of dialogue and aside is addressed to the audience, a technique that draws the audience into the story. While many of Shakespeare productions (by other theatre companies) use direct address, Ohio Shakespeare Theatre is unique in their overt, and dominant use of direct address.
Live music by accomplished musicians; Jason Leupold (guitar), Amy Teagan Dick (harp), Mark Stoffer (mandolin), Sydney Keller (guitar) and Karen Wood (flute) adds merriment and festivity to the show. The last scene is the wedding of the four couples and coincides with the announcement of Duke Frederick’s decision to renounce his title and wealth to become a hermit in the forest. This marks the beginning of a new era with love and trust. The OSF players celebrate with classical renaissance music (arranged by Mark Stoffer) along with spirited dance. The show ends with the epilogue by Rosalind who first “apologizes” for its unconventionality (a woman delivering an epilogue) and states her intention to “conjure” (cast a spell on) the audience—men and women alike—so that they would love and take care of each other. Rosalind’s epilogue underscores the power of love and peace to overcome the destructive forces of greed, hatred and deception.