Originally composed computer music, costumes that evoke visual artists and iconic characters, set on a romantic, but not ornate stage, all refer to the distant and recent past. There is not a particular time period on which to fixate, here. Though director Tom Dugdale keeps the importance on the written word and acting in UC San Diego’s production of As You Like It, he takes artistic liberties that create the unexpected. Enter a melancholy and frivolous modern world.
Dugdale, a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in Directing, begins As You Like It with what appears to be an added scene. The production doesn’t begin with Act one, scene one. Instead, the flip-flopped scenes one and two come after Dugdale’s initial ditty. The play opens with Rosalind (Maren Bush), who walks onstage and lies down on a bed. Enter Jaques (Patrick Riley) through the tall, red double doors. Rosalind gets up to play music on the Victrola, (with original music by Jason Ponce). The audience isn’t privy to who these characters are since the play does not begin as written and the characters say nothing to each other. When Jaques picks up the Victrola that Rosalind cranks, there is a sense that he is going to smash the phonograph. Bodies tense with the expectation, and then the unexpected happens. Jaques sets the phonograph on a chair and the tension releases, but then you ask yourself “Is this As You Like It?” The play continues, with the granted flip-flopping, but it’s the opening scene that emphasizes the importance of Jaques and Rosalind, the melancholic and the innocent, and the past and present.
While the love between Rosalind and Orlando is one of the main stories, Dugdale’s direction balances all the giddy love affairs with the satirical commentary of Jaques. There is clarity as to why Jaques’ character is necessary when Riley, whose messy hair and painted white face is intriguingly reminiscent of The Joker in "The Dark Night," delivers the famous lines, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances…” while reflecting into a clever pond in the Forest of Arden. Jaques analyzes all the other characters while reflecting upon himself.
The actors are not merely players on this stage. There is particular care of phrasing. It is easy to forget a story is being told in poetic verse in Dugdale’s fast-paced production. Evan Powell, who plays Orlando, is a seasoned Shakespeare actor who executes his character with passion. Orlando’s love interest, Rosalind, played by Maren Bush, is as giddy as a school girl, and then smoothly changes sex when she and her cousin Celia become runaways in the Forest of Arden. In her disguise as Ganymede, Bush is coy in terms of love, and bully as a boy, placing her hands flat on her hips as if to give the appearance that her curves are straight. She then rolls back and forth on her heals to move linearly like a man.
Bush also has a great rapport with Lorene Chesley (Celia). In flirty skirts, Chesley commands the stage with her rich speaking voice and graceful dancer’s body. In the Forest of Arden, Celia, too, falls in love, but with Oliver (Josh Wade), the brother of Orlando. Audrey (Maritxell Carrero) falls in love with the comedic Touchstone (Johnny Gill), who excites the audience. And Silvius (Zachary Harrison) ultimately convinces Phoebe (Marshel Adams) to fall in love with him. With all this love, we remember the only odd man out, and reflect back upon Jaques’ melancholic companionship gazing back at him in the serene and solitary pond.
The whimsical costume design by Sohhee Han is a reflection of the Forest of Arden. The costumes are a fantastic combination of multicultural themes and a range of eras with knickers, petticoats and suits to enhance the direction of the intermingling of planes, persons, tenses along with the past, present and future. In the Forest of Arden, when the dwellers enter with a parasol in hand, the stage painted with a birdcage and petticoats, the scene calls forth a colorful Renoir. One of the more vibrant costumes is Audrey’s red top, long skirt with a petticoat underneath, and a striped apron. Audrey’s costume and braids suggest Frida Kahlo except without the uni-brow.
The stage design is less elaborate in appearance than the costume design. Two tall walls each with double doors meet in a corner creating a room that is virtually empty. Open books are thrown and piled to make mounds here and there against the walls that remain constant. A bed is rolled in and out to inspire Rosalind’s room, while leaves float down signifying the Forest of Arden. There is a pond of water that is contained underneath the stage, and the audience is able to view the stage from above so that one may appreciate the carpentry that went into the portion of the stage cut out for the sake of the pond.
Dugdale both begins and ends this production with his own bold signature, as this appropriate play for university students in a master’s program exits with a happy ending instead of ending with Rosalind’s epilogue. In an anxious world, this fanciful production is light-hearted and yet has plenty of cynicism for those who enjoy a dose of realism. Either way, reflect on it as you like it.