[Scene] | As You (Will) Like It

 

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Design: Emily Hoffman // Photo Credit: Barbara Johnston

 | Thursday, February 6, 2014

As an English major, I really should be have been able to tell you which of Shakespeare’s plays contains the famous “all the world’s a stage” quote before Wednesday evening’s production of “As You Like It” in Washington Hall. But, it surprised me to hear that line in the second act, and for me it touches on the greatest aspect of an already fantastic performance.

Here’s the context: The melancholy Jaques de Boys is comparing life to theater, and explaining how he thinks each person progresses through several predictable stages before inevitably meeting death. He declaims, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” Very melodramatic, very profound, naturally.

Now, here’s the best part: The players in the Actors From The London Stage company take that very quote to heart in their varied performance styles. Each of the five actors plays at least four roles, with no set and no director. Since they don’t need specific scenery, the whole world really is open for their stage, and they have a very literal interpretation of “one man in his time plays many parts.”

Take, for example, Dan Winter, whose characters include Orlando, Charles, Corin, William and Jaques. In one scene, Orlando and Charles wrestle each other in court — it’s hilarious to watch Winter punch and grapple with an imaginary opponent, before turning around and rewinding to feign the opponent’s reaction to the blows. When Orlando wins, Winter alternately lifts his fist in victory and then immediately lies on the floor to represent Charles’ loss.

It’s absurd, and hilarious. The brilliance of each actor shines through in the way they can play so many roles without losing the audience’s understanding. They switch effortlessly between characters and accents and props, with just the donning of a hat or the removal of a coat — and in doing so, we appreciate the nuances of each character all the more.

Jennifer Higham (who plays Rosalind, Amiens, Audrey and Lord) is without a doubt one of the most talented stage actresses I’ve ever seen. In what is perhaps the most outlandish switch of them all, Jennifer depicts Rosalind dressing up as a boy to escape from court, counseling her lover on how best to win her over — completely unbeknownst to him.

The whole performance is filled with moments like these, comical in the traditional setting but absolutely hilarious and brilliant in this unique performance. The actors not only do justice to Shakespeare’s original words, they draw them out and maximize their power by making them the show’s major driving force. With no set to speak of — besides a group of chairs on stage in which they sit when not in character and a coat rack holding the various character’s identifying props — the actors seem to be spectators right along with us, involved in the game of theater. The atmosphere in the auditorium is especially dynamic because the actors implicitly ask us to buy into their charade of character and allow us to participate in the show’s success.

The last performance is tonight [Friday] at 7:30 p.m., in Washington Hall. Tickets cost $22 for the general public, and $12 for students. Whether you know the play or not, or even if you know Shakespeare at all or not, you won’t be disappointed by the show. This is theater like you’ve never seen it, and one of the most engaging, interactive and incredible performances I’ve ever seen.

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski ajakubo1@nd.edu

Originally published by The Observer – Friday, February 7, 2014

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