Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It takes William Shakespeare’s comedy, and allows Director Brant Russell and Dramaturg Jemma Alix Levy to adapt it into a 90’s Brit-rock musical. Set between the stoic and austere court of the new Duke Frederick and the lush Forest of Arden, the haven of the banished Duke Senior, it is a comedy of juxtapositions and hidden intentions, with a hefty dose of 90s nostalgia.
Synopsis ofAs You Like It
Besties and cousins Rosalind (Courtney Lucien) and Celia (Angelique Archer) live in Celia’s mother’s, the Duke Frederick, duchy, after having banished her predecessor, Duke Senior (both played by Sara Mackie). When Rosalind meets Orlando (KP Powell), music swells and hearts soar, except from the Duke, who banishes her niece Rosalind. Celia decides to leave with her cousin, and the two set off in disguise into the Forest of Arden. It wouldn’t be a Shakespearean comedy without gendered disguises, and Rosalind becomes “Ganymede,” who is able to help Orlando woo his new crush, Rosalind herself. Hijinks ensue, and we end up with four weddings performed by the god, Hymen. Deus ex machina, indeed.
The Narrator (Hannah Gregory) serves as our “chorus,” both setting the scene at the opening and transitioning between locations and moments. Gregory’s powerful voice stands up to the rocking band on stage, composed of Cary Davenport, Erin McCamley, Joseph Memory, Lindsey Augusta Mercer and Nathan Singer. Davenport’s original music supports the 90s setting, and his lyrics take the best bits of the Bard and transform them into song.
If there were ever a company to take such a deep dive into adapting this text, Cincy Shakes does so with full commitment and plenty of humor. For a play with such complicated plot lines and geometrical love shapes, infusing an extra layer of comedy helps to break through some of the nuances and subtleties of Shakespearean language. Particularly clever are CSC veterans Geoffrey Warren Barnes II as Touchstone the Fool and Billy Chace as Silvius and Charles the Wrestler (the latter in particular steals the scene in Act 1).
As is custom at the Otto M. Budig Theater, the production quality is excellent. Samantha Reno’s scenic design and Jessica Drayton’s lighting are immersive and impeccable. The voices on stage, music directed by Erin McCamley, are both strong and gentle when needed.
If this is your first introduction to As You Like It, a 60-second Google summary will serve you well before entering the Forest. CSC provides a synopsis in both the hard copy program and the online version. But with a fully-committed reimagining, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company provides clarity of plot and comfortingly familiar visuals to make an approachable adaptation. Sure, it’s not traditional, but you can take it As You Like It.