License to Like: As You Like It at the Folger
"O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you. And I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women-- as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them-- that between you and the women the play may please."
As You Like It, Epilogue
Shakespeare via Rosalind gives critics license to be honest about their feelings toward this complicated comedy that includes such relationship issues as warring brothers, runaway youths, exuberant love, malicious hate, crossdressing, gender confusion, and religious conversion. First published in 1623, As You Like It, which some scholars find flawed, is one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed plays. Because Rosalind delivers the last words, the play has currency with women struggling today to make their will recognized and accepted.
On January 29, 2017, the Dresser saw a performance of the Folger Theatre's co-production in association with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival of this beloved comedy. What the Dresser particularly enjoyed was the ability of the actors to convey a modern-day sense of the old text through their body language and their well-timed vocal delivery. Especially notable were Lindsay Alexandra Carter as Rosalind, Antoinette Robinson as Celia, and Lorenzo Roberts as Orlando.
What drew the Dresser to this three-hour production, including one 15-minute intermission, was the promise of original music by a young composer named Heather Christian. (Christian received an Obie Award in 2014 for music she set to Gertrude Stein's Children's book The World Is Round.) The music in the scenes before the intermission featured Renaissance-like tunes similar to other productions heard by the Dresser while, after the intermission, more contemporary music with country/gospel/folk/funk inflection as well as one rap composition seemed out of synch with what was played initially. While it was fun to hear the kazoo played and see the modern day guitar on stage, the Dresser yearned for a more consistent musical treatment throughout the entire play.
In that vein, the Dresser found that director Gaye Taylor Upchurch's choices for mise en scène (minimalist) and costumes suggested a contemporary influence but not distinct enough to know what time period. For example, the most memorable costumes were worn by Aaron Krohn as Touchstone, the Royal Fool. His tight-fitting, large-plaid-patterned suit seem to suggest something out of the turn of the Twentieth Century but the loose-fitting clothing worn by Rosalind in the Forest of Arden when she was disguised as boy as well as a mismatched outfit worn by Lorenzo Roberts seemed more contemporary.
Would the Dresser have preferred period Shakespearean trappings of scene, costume, music and manner? Not at all, the Dresser just wanted consistent treatment that would not have diverted the attention from this rich text love and dominion.
In Fritz Ward's poem "Dear," the reader is served (with the repetition of the phrase "at the end") a concluding measure of the human condition on Earth as we know it--love, suffering, earth, day, night, death, space (could we substitute heaven?), and rebirth (as suggested by beginnings). The Dresser chooses "Dear" as final commentary on this review of Upchurch's production of As You Like It because how one chooses to communicate a great work of art is never by one method. So while the Dresser sees fit not to like everything about this production, she has learned new many new things and was glad for attending this production of a favorite Shakespearean play prodimnantly about love and communication. Now she will find a tree to hug and possibly in the tradition of Orlando expressing his love for Rosalind post a poem on it if the tree agrees.
At the end of love there is a stove.
At the end of suffering a snowman naked down to the charcoal briquettes.
At the end of earth a shower drain tangled with black hair.
At the end of day an electric fence crackling in the rain.
At the end of night a runway from which all dreams depart.
At the end of death clarified butter.
At the end of sky a space. At the end of space a wishing well.
At the end of all beginnings a door like any other, dividing inside from out.
by Fritz Ward
from Tsunami Diorama
"Dear" copyright © 2017 by Fritz Ward
Photo Credits: Teresa Wood