By Meryl Gottlieb| firstname.lastname@example.org| @buzzlightmeryl
As You Like It by William Shakespeare, directed by Shelley Delaney
8 p.m. March 26-29, April 2-5
The Forum Theater, Radio and Television Building
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
The Division of Theater rounds out its 2013-14 season with its production of As You Like It by William Shakespeare.
The play follows Rosalind (played by Kat Bramley), a duke’s daughter, who flees her uncle’s court after he usurps her father. With her cousin Celia (Chelsea Cannon) and the court jester Touchstone (Emilio Tirri) at her side, Rosalind finds safety — and love — in the Forest of Arden.
Every time I discuss Shakespeare, I fear people are apprehensive about joining the conversation and seeing his work performed on stage. Yes, his work has become so elevated in our society that many may be wary of approaching it, but as the director Shelley Delaney said, “As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies.”
The play is easy to follow if you know these main points: Rosalind’s father Duke Senior was usurped by his younger brother Duke Frederick and forced to flee into the Forest of Arden. Celia is Duke Frederick’s daughter and is best friends with Rosalind. Rosalind is forced to flee into the forest and takes Celia and the court jester Touchstone with her. For protection, Rosalind disguises herself as a man in the forest. Her love, Orlando (played by Mbali Guliwe), was also forced to flee into the forest, so she takes the opportunity to test his love.
Take this cheat sheet and go forth. Give this play a try.
You may not be able to understand every line of every moment — there were plenty of times when I struggled — however things flow so smoothly and swiftly that the larger picture is painted quickly enough so that you know what is happening in each scene. Don’t fret if you miss or don’t understand something. I don’t feel anyone can truly understand every aspect of a Shakespeare play on only his or her first listen. Shakespeare is so renowned because of how richly deep his texts are, meaning continual analysis and reading of his work is required to fully appreciate it. Listen intently; this play is worth your attention.
I absolutely love the idea of “testing your love” to see if he or she truly loves you. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to see if the one you’re madly in love with feels the same? Shakespeare is known for being able to tap into the human condition like no other. Here, he hits the nail on the head. You can have your tragic Romeo and Juliet love story, I’d much rather be a part of Orlando and Rosalind’s tale, for I feel their love is much more believable than the famed star-crossed lovers’. Rosalind tests Orlando, so that at the end of the play, you want these two to get together because you know their love is real. Romeo and Juliet just say they’re madly in love, but the skeptic in me finds it hard to believe you can simply see someone from across the room and fall in love. Love is about connection and understanding, not just looks. I believe Rosalind and Orlando have that, which is why I root for them.
The entire cast does a splendid job. Two stand outs amongst the entire ensemble are Bramley and Tirri. Kat Bramley as Rosalind carries the show and is simply spectacular as the protagonist. She speaks clearly, has an impeccable range of emotions and is a star of the production. Emilio Tirri shines like the sun as the source of comedy in the play. Tirri himself said Touchstone is “the clown” and, boy, does Tirri have fun with him. The physicality he brought to this character slays me. His side glances, prancing and sass make him a likely audience favorite. I also have to commend Chelsea Cannon for stealing the scene several times. Watch Cannon as she sits off to the side and gives her sassy reactions to the main action; they’re priceless. Maddie Davis is also a great source of comedy as she plays proud shepherdess Phebe, who is often too flirty for her own good.
As I’ve come to think custom of the Division of Theater productions, the set is absolutely stunning. Combining metal and wood, the set is what C. David Russell, the play’s set designer, said is a liminal space, or a place in transition. A tree’s roots hang from the center of the ceiling while the floor is made of wood planks and expanded steel mesh in order to give the audience the framework of the world so that they can fill in the middle for themselves. Tirri called the set “an adult’s playground,” and it’s easy to see why. The actors run around the ramps, hang on and off the rails and jump from level to level throughout the show. It is so beautiful to see how well incorporated the set is into the play. It’s hard to imagine how it could be staged any other way.
This production is also big on music. Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father, has his own band consisting of guitars, shakers and a hand drum. It’s an interesting concept added to the production that really helps continue the rapid pace of the play.
The play was sharply executed from all angles and proved to be a great note for the division to end its season on this year.