“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” is among Shakespeare’s most famous lines. When it was penned, the Bard probably did not imagine it delivered by a girl dressed like a beat poetry performer with a flask in her hand. At Howard County Community College’s workshop of As You Like It, that is exactly what happened.
Director Jenny Male states in the program that the transformation from a strict war-like society to a free and peace-loving democracy is the true core of the show. To add some American flavor to the tale, Male chooses to set this particular As You Like It in the sounds and colorful patterns of the American 60s. This adaptation leaves the audience humming and laughing as this rustic love story is played out.
The play opens with a series of tableaus underscored by a dissonant disco beat. Rosalind (Taylor Purnell) is the daughter of the banished Duke (Chanla Hudson) whose only reason to stay at court is the friendship she shares with her cousin Celia (Kaity Krull). Orlando (Brandon Furr) is the youngest son of a now deceased nobleman who is ignored and hated by his older brother Oliver (Christian Preziosi). The pair, who fall in love to the tune of “Happy Together”, are quickly separated by fate, but brought back together in the Forest of Arden. There’s just one problem. Rosalind is dressed as a boy in a typical Shakespeare trope. From there, madness ensues.
In adapting the piece to a more modern sensibility, the technical aspects are beautifully brought together under the direction of David Blachowicz. The set and lighting design by Mollie Singer and Jay Herzog respectively come from a production of Hunting and Gathering by Rep Stage (the resident Equity company on campus). The structure of boxes and chalkboards allow for the cast to leave messages and retrieve props from its depths. The lighting evokes both deep emotion during soliloquys with soft washes and over-the-top whimsy with an ever-present disco ball. Costumes by Lacy Hall are perfectly splashy with peasant dresses, paisley patterns, and flower crowns abounding.
The cast inhibits this crazy world with ease and playfulness. Purnell as Rosalind and Furr as Orlando are an adorable pair, both playing an excellent dichotomy between easy confidence and oozing sentimentality. Krull as Celia is an Energizer Bunny of a best friend with sass to spare. Warren Harris as Silvius and Noa Bass as Phebe are charmingly child-like in their pursuit of love. The standout performance of the evening goes to Sierra Young as Jaques, the mistress of melancholy. Young makes the most of every moment of the stage, either serving up barrels of laughs or philosophical truths that might be a little too hard to swallow for some.
Even in the condensed form performed by these wonderful actors, it cannot be denied that As You Like It is Shakespeare comedy at its finest. The Bard may be studied as literature in our schools, but his wit and humor is best experienced on the stage. This production is an excellent reminder of that famous line. All the world is a stage and we are all merely players. Let’s play while we can.
Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
As You Like It plays through April 29, 2016 in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard County Community College – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call 443-518-1500.