Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
It has always been deemed taboo to dabble with or in any way rearrange the lines written by William Shakespeare. Troupes have changed the time and the setting but never the words. Still, even though it’s patently amazing that these tales have survived intact for over 400 years, the time may have come to spruce them up for the new millennium.
With that said, what better vehicle to give a little shake and stir than Shakespeare’s As You Like It which opened at the University of Michigan-Flint Friday. Indeed, this wonderfully fresh adaptation by Robert Kauzlaric doesn’t just update the dress code; it updates the script as well.
Opening on a barren stage, we are reminded that this is theatre; not real, but a mere story being told. This will eventually evolve into a colorful autumnal forest, yet rendered to resemble cutouts thus continuing the story told impact.
Leading and often “directing” the action is Farrell Tatum as the staff wielding Jaques. She is quite impressive as dressed in boots, long frock coat and top hat she exudes a sense of melancholy that places her in a somewhat ethereal realm of control.
The story swirls around a political conflict that has torn two families apart causing one family to flee the city and seek refuge in the nearby Forest of Arden. A third family finds itself usurped as the reigning Duke (Jason Briggs) demands allegiance from Oliver de Bois (Lucas Moquin) thus leaving his younger brother Orlando (Gage Webster) with nothing.
Briggs struts and intimidates with the best of them but has one weakness – his daughter Celia (Curr’esha Beatty) – who will eventually bring him to reason. Meanwhile, Celia’s best friend is the daughter of the exiled Duke (Andrew Eisengruber). She and Rosalind (Alyssa Banister) are the story’s driving duo as they escape to the forest to find freedom and, well, also Orlando. One problem: Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy in order to safely flee the city, but her getup is so convincing even Orlando believes her to be a man.
It’s a comedy so all comes out well in the end, but getting there is a real treat in this production. Director Janet Haley (who incidentally played this characterization of Jaques in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It) has turned much of the interpretation and production development of Kauzlaric’s script over to her cast of students. What emerges here is perhaps the most refreshing and creative version of a Shakespearean play we have ever seen.
Stage choreography is hip and fun, the guitarist (Seth Hart) strums throughout and the lines Silvius (Edward Giovanni Moore III) sings to Phebe (Andrea Orpinel) are now and then close to modern rap. Constantly chasing Phebe, Moore is hysterical as he is often obstructed by her “sheep” that follow her everywhere.
Costumes are timeless and colorful, especially those of the goat herder, Audrey (Michaela Nogaj) and her wild and outspoken suitor, the court jester Touchstone (Joshua Cornea). These two are a hoot to watch as they shepherd the “goats” and themselves.
Animals do abound in this show – aside from the sheep and the lambs, watch for deer, a buck (sad story here), a lion, a snake and a bird!
Other classy portrayals worthy of mention include Le Beau, the personal assistant to the usurping duke. Enrique Vargas is prim comic perfection in this role. Marie Blacknall is Corin, grandmother to Silvius, who seems to look after the younger ones. Connor Klee plays Adam, servant to Orlando who though old and lame, insists he go with his master into the forest.
Finally, we trust the tech crew has ironed out the couple of lighting issues encountered Friday so that we can solidly encourage you, even if you have avoided plays by Shakespeare, to make an exception and scurry out to see As You Like It.
Performances continue October 28-29 and November 3-5 at the University Theatre, 303 Kearsley St, Flint MI 48502. For more info and tickets contact either the box office – 810-237-6520 or online at umflint.edu/theatredance