AS YOU LIKE IT is one of Shakespeare’s most charming comedies, especially when performed by a youthful and exuberant cast as in the production at Camden County College in Blackwood. The play embodies many plot devices often used by the Bard: banished people, fraternal treachery, a girl disguised as a boy, a forest, romantic mix-ups, and so forth. As with many Shakespearean productions nowadays, the time period of the original is changed, and what could be better than resetting it in the hippie era of the 1960s? This allows for colorful costumes and wonderful 60s songs and dances, bringing back fond memories for many audience members.
The first scenes are based on conflicts between two pairs of brothers. Oliver, a successful businessman running the family orchard, decides to teach his idle younger brother Orlando a lesson by letting him challenge Charles, a champion wrestler in the employ of Duke Frederick. He is sure that Charles will make short work of Orlando. Duke Frederick has banished his older brother and taken over his position and the lands of his followers. The real Duke’s daughter, Rosalind, remains in his court because she and her cousin Celia (Frederick’s daughter) are inseparable. When Orlando arrives, both girls are kind to him, but it’s love at first sight between him and Rosalind. Of course, he defeats Charles—in a slow-motion boxing match! Later, Frederick surprises Rosalind by ordering her banished from the court on pain of death. She and Celia plot to run away together, with Rosalind disguised as a young man for safety’s sake. They ask Touchstone, the court clown, to come along for entertainment. The three end up in the Forest of Arden, where the rightful Duke is living as the leader of a band of flower children.
Orlando comes to the forest also, hanging verses addressed to Rosalind on every tree. He meets “Ganymede” (Rosalind in disguise—her hippie outfit is something to behold). She proposes to cure him of his lovesickness by pretending to be–what else?–Rosalind. All the forest newcomers interact with local “shepherds” and “shepherdesses,” and Touchstone is in his element, wooing the shapely Audrey. No use writing more about the plot; it’s much too complicated!
Melissa Rittmann is a lovely and witty Rosalind. She and Alexandra Mays Ford as Celia display great teamwork. Jason MacDermott is a feisty and believable Orlando, and Brett Molotsky is properly villainous as Duke Frederick. The cast is too numerous to acknowledge everyone, but there are a few standouts. Don Swenson plays more than one role, most notably the farmer/shepherd Corin, “wise beyond his wit.” Benita Simpson, as Amiens, thrills the audience with her singing. The melancholy Jaques is played by Karl Babij, who delivers the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech as part of a conversation, as it should be. Jeff Wagner as the banished Duke and James Collins as Touchstone are also excellent in their roles.
In addition to his roles, Don Swenson is the designer of the attractive set with its birch trees, rocks, and small waterfall. He also served as technical director and sound designer. Costume design by Cynthia Janzen and Gini Loomis invokes the bizarre but lovable fashions of the era. Rachel Zoll choreographed the lively dances. We don’t know who designed the props, but are still wondering how the “sheep” in one musical number danced without visible human handling. And Corin’s “hen” hand puppet moved most expressively. Last but far from least, director Marjorie Sokoloff, self-admittedly often gloomy and cynical in the past, shares with the audience the joy that she discovered while directing this play.
AS YOU LIKE IT
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Marjorie Sokoloff
May 6, 7, 11, 12, 13 and 14 at 8 PM, May 8 at 3 PM
STAGES at Camden County College
Little Theatre, Lincoln Hall
200 College Drive
Blackwood, NJ 08012
(856) 227-7200, ext. 4737