Synetic Theater’s As You Like It is what W.H. Auden called an “inverted pastoral”—the outlaw theme of Shakespeare’s play is enhanced by the transformation of the Forest of Arden into a dystopian urban landscape where a bohemian community struggles to survive. Taylor Robinson’s Rosalind is tough, elegantly sexual, and ferociously inventive. Her cousin Celia, in a captivating performance by Sharisse Taylor, has an audacity and spark that illustrates perfectly why the two girls are friends. Philip Fletcher’s Orlando is an endearing fool for love. Together, they lead a cast of remarkable performers, in a rhythmic, visually extraordinary production exuding violence and sensuality.
This free adaptation of Shakespeare by Nathan Weinberger and Director Paata Tsikurishvili adds exhilarating new elements to the story. Some characters, such as Le Beau, Charles, Jaques de Boys, Sir Oliver Martext, Corin, William, and Adam, are omitted, and others (notably Audrey) are altered considerably from Shakespeare’s original conception. But the core of the plot remains; lovers find each other in a world in which there are no rules. This is state-of-the-art Shakespeare for a new generation.
A highlight of Act One is Scott Brown’s virtuoso turn as Jaques, in which the Seven Ages of Man speech becomes a dark threnody for the human race. There is a sprightly comic scene in which Touchstone (well played by Will Hayes) and the sylphlike Celia convince Rosalind to cut her hair. Irakli Kavsadze has the challenging task of portraying both the initially villainous Duke Frederick and Rosalind’s father, the kindly Duke Senior. His joy as he recognizes his daughter is particularly touching. Scott Turner’s Oliver makes a beautiful transition from a nasty piece of work to a repentant brother. Konstantine Lortkipanidize is a fine Amiens as well as an Synetic’s extremely gifted Sound Editor/Resident Composer.
Phebe, in Shakespeare’s play, is the scornful country wench who falls in love with Rosalind when she is disguised as a male. Laura Artesi is comically infatuated as she sidles up to the reluctant Rosalind/Ganymede; her pole dance, as she attempts to seduce him, is athletic, bold, and unapologetically erotic. Zana Gankhuyak does excellent work as Sylvius, emotionally truthful, vibrantly agile, and finally overjoyed when he receives the long-overdue reward of Phebe’s love.
Touchstone (Will Hayes) and Audrey (Francesca Blume) were something of an odd couple in the original play. Touchstone, written for Robert Armin, the new comedian in the company, was a cynical sophisticate, replete with desire for Audrey but not at all averse to having a defective wedding in order to be able to make his escape later. Audrey, for her part, was a rustic through and through, bewildered by Touchstone’s wit yet glad to marry him. Here, Audrey is a powerful member of the court who falls in love with Touchstone late in the action. Touchstone’s verbal gymnastics are lost, but his dance with Audrey reveals the voluptuous excitement of their attraction.
Set Designer Anastasia Simes takes us from a plush, Hollywood-style environment (the court) to a Blade-Runner like urban jungle (Arden St.). Costume Design by Kendra Rai is stylized and richly imaginative.
Irina Tsikurishvili notes that her choreography was inspired by the set itself. It is compelling in every way; the way the production feels, looks, and moves is fully integrated. Lighting Design (Brian Allard) and Sound Design (Thomas Sowers) combine with all the other aspects of the production to immerse us in a uniquely film-noir, Threepenny Opera-like universe.
There is a famous incident in the late Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. A group of aphasics were watching Ronald Reagan give a speech. (Aphasia is partial or total loss of the ability to use or comprehend words, resulting from brain damage or disease.) Aphasics have an immensely enhanced sensitivity to nonverbal cues; it is said that one cannot lie to an aphasic. The aphasics saw through the words of the speech to the false tones and gestures. And they laughed. We, the so-called normals, were deceived; the aphasics were not.
In removing Shakespeare’s language, one can explore new and different aspects of his genius. One can devise something totally unique. This is what artistic creativity is all about. Shakespeare himself would shriek with laughter and be lost in amazement by the Synetic Theater’s As You Like It; a 21st century tribute to a great Elizabethan playwright.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
As You Like It plays through January 17, 2015 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, call the Box Office at (866) 811-4111, or buy them online.