(Lenox, MA) –As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, runs through September 4 in Shakespeare & Company’s Founders’ Theatre in Lenox, Mass. Abounding in fools, lovers, and cross-dressers, this is the sort of production that Shakespeare & Company does best. Directed by company artistic director Tony Simotes, this As You Like It is set in Paris, France, in the early 1920s – coincidentally, the era lovingly paid tribute to in the recently acclaimed Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. This charming comedy follows the intrepid Rosalind as she travels from the chic City of Lights to the slightly sinister Forest of Arden, where she finds shepherds, soldiers, and eventually, true love.
A core group of long-time company actors joins Simotes in breathing new life into this celebrated pastoral romp. Tod Randolph takes on the role of Jacques, Jonathan Epstein slips on his clown shoes for Touchstone, and Johnny Lee Davenport and Malcolm Ingram pull double duty by taking on dual roles.
It’s love at first sight for Orlando and Rosalind, who lock eyes during one of the most thrilling wrestling matches in Shakespeare’s canon. Unfortunately, Rosalind is banished from her uncle’s court soon thereafter, cutting her courtship with Orlando short. But rather than wallow in self-pity, the clever Rosalind uses her misfortune as an opportunity to reinvent herself. Struck with the spirit of adventure, she swaps her skirt for a sturdy pair of pants and heads into uncharted territory.
Disguised as a man, Rosalind journeys into the Forest of Arden, accompanied by her loyal cousin Celia and the witty fool Touchstone. Together, the trio encounters a wide array of fools and forest folk, many of whom are grappling with romantic problems of their own. Orlando ? after fleeing the murderous plans of his brother Oliver ? soon arrives in Arden as well, and it isn’t long before he encounters the still-disguised Rosalind. Surrounded by flora, fauna, and the spirit of celebration and relief that followed the end of the Great War, Rosalind and Orlando strike up a friendship that dances on the edge of romance.
As You Like It is both a philosophical feast and a lighthearted comedy. Written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the Folio of 1623, Shakespeare’s As You Like It contains one of his most famous and quoted speeches with Jacques’s “All the world’s a stage…” Indeed, the play delights in both the high and low brow, as it alternates between the hilarious high-jinks of clowns such as Audrey and Touchstone and the weighty musings of lord Jacques. It’s an original, intoxicating mix, resulting in a laugh-out-loud comedy with plenty of pathos and heart.
In Simotes’s production, as France emerges from the Great War, the country is re-imagining itself with a new spirit of adventure, love, and poetry. Women, in particular, are breaking the rules and finding new ways to shape their place in the world. “I felt that the period following World War I was the perfect setting for Rosalind ? one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most independent heroines ? to discover herself and find true love,” says Simotes
Long-time company artist Arthur Oliver returns to design the costumes for As You Like It, drawing on the looks of 1920s actresses Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, and Marlene Dietrich for leading ladies Rosalind and Celia. “Having come from the court, both of these young women were very well off, and likely would’ve spent much of their time attending the cinema,” says Oliver. “The focus of the court is very suave, with lots of light laces and linens. The Forest of Arden, however, is much darker, as it’s a wilderness that hasn’t been tamed yet. The exiled Duke Senior and his followers are of the French Foreign Legion, with the exception of Jaques, whose look hints at an exotic, erotic past.”
By incorporating music, song, and dance into his production, Simotes hopes to create an atmosphere that’s both charmingly vibrant and engagingly pensive. “Orlando, Touchstone, Celia and Jaques are some of Shakespeare’s most interesting comedic characters,” says Simotes, “and the play is chockful of terrific comic dialogue and slapstick humor.”