Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, the Folger Theatre’s edgy rendition of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” draws the audience out of its seats and into the mysterious Forest of Arden — a place where lovers, fools and refugees gather to escape the cruel and unwelcoming world that awaits them. Full of life and wonder, Folger’s modern interpretation of this Shakespearean classic explores the complexities of romance, leaving the audience ready to unleash their inner lover and release their inhibitions.
The show — running until March 7 — follows Rosalind (Lindsay Alexandra Carter), a young girl who is banished from the royal court by her uncle due to a feud between him and Rosalind’s father. With her best friend and cousin, Celia (Antoinette Robinson), and the court’s fool, Touchstone (Aaron Krohn), Rosalind flees to the Forest of Arden where she assumes a new identity as a male. There she encounters Orlando (Lorenzo Roberts), a strapping young man who has fled home to escape his brother’s murderous plots against him. Rosalind is instantly enamored with Orlando, but maintains her guise as a man to protect her heart. She soon discovers the depths of Orlando’s love. The play explores lovers’ quarrels, complex family relationships and modern troubadours.
“As You Like It” is a Shakespearean outlier because of its lack of a central dilemma. The cast and crew at Folger’s Theater expand on the show’s unconventionality by incorporating multifaceted musical performances, eccentric costumes and contemporary body language to make the show more engaging for today’s audiences.
For the most part, the show adheres to a mellow, folksy aesthetic. This look is evident in Cidney Forkpah’s costumes. Rosalind dons a simple red vest over a baby blue button-down for her male guise, Celia sports a classic floral peasant dress, Phoebe wears pink overalls and Sylvius is clad in a blue denim jacket and ascot. The only two deviants are Orlando, whose suave yet alternative look reflects his poeticism and confidence, and Touchstone, who is outfitted in garish bright suits that match his colorful personality.
The musical numbers add to the rustic, calming atmosphere. Although the original play is not a musical, Folger’s rendition features original numbers by Heather Christian. While each number ranges in theme, the blues and folk styles remain consistent. In one of the final songs, the actors’ voices unite in perfect harmony while the sounds of subtle guitar, piano and harmonica — all played by the actors — ring out across the theater. The number is the perfect bridge between the joyous wedding scene and Rosalind’s charming ending dialogue, in which she breaks the fourth wall to recount her gratitude to the audience for attending and humorously announces that she hopes they enjoyed the show.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it may prove difficult to follow. However, the thespians resolve this issue by juxtaposing Shakespeare’s words with modern-day mannerisms and vocal tones. The character who best employs this method is Celia, who delivers her monologues with playful confidence and informality. By softening their tones and delivering the complex prose in a casual manner, actors help the audience absorb the plot and participate in the mischief of Arden.
While “As You Like It” features a supreme cast, it is undoubtedly Rosalind who rules the show from start to finish. The beauty in Carter’s performance relies on her development of Rosalind’s duality. While Rosalind conveys an air of strength and impenetrability, Carter gradually reveals the character’s underlying timidity. Rosalind is an extremely relatable character who reminds audiences of the importance of emotion and openness.
With “As You Like It,” Folger Theatre provides a valuable commentary on love and life. It transports the audience to a magical place where people think with their hearts and not their mind. It offers the humbling reminder that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
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