"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." Surely, even if you have not studied Shakespeare in the classroom, you've heard those famous words, which originate from the comedy "As You Like It." The play is a musical and light-hearted delight about the meaning of being favored by fortune and falling in love. The performance at the Folger Shakespeare Library's Theater is an enchanting rendition of the play that is faithful to the verse and yet very quirky.
The play consists of a number of different couples who, in keeping with comedy genre conventions, all pair together by the end of the play. "As You Like It" is set mostly in the Arden forest, where magical and fantastical things can occur that would not otherwise happen in the rules-bound court. The action primarily follows the courtship of Rosalind (Amanda Quaid), the banished duke's daughter, and Orlando (Noel Vélez), who is escaping prosecution by his older brother. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede and coaches Orlando on how to woo his lover. Orlando is in love with Rosalind but of course does not know at the time that Ganymede is actually just Rosalind in disguise. Through her manipulations, Rosalind grows confident that Orlando's love for her is true. While Rosalind and Orlando embody romantic love, other couples - in abundance - foil their love with deceit and mismatched partners.
The actors who ultimately steal the show are Touchstone (Sarah Marshall) and Jacques (Joseph Marcell), the two court jesters. Touchstone is traditionally a male role, which, in this production, is given to a female cast member. The actress is purposely androgynous and outrageous, which furthers the topsy-turvy gender roles evoked by the forest. The melancholy Jacques is the sardonic figure whose keen observations and careful timing lend scope and gravity to the characters' conversation.
At its most basic, the play is often silly and rather devoid of plot. Although a great deal of action happens in the first and last act to bookend the play, the middle acts are noticeably slower. The characters' speech contemplates human behavior, including love, loyalty and station in life. Much of what they say is wise Truth (yes, with a capital T) and ever-meaningful, poetic life commentary exemplifying Shakespeare's genius. However, prepare for the play by reading Susan Snyder's commentary included in the program. She eloquently explains how the play fits in modernity, and you'll understand that you aren't misinterpreting late 16th century English - big plots simply don't appear in this play.
For all the play's slow parts, the play is most amusing when the director's (Derek Goldman) imaginative and absurd interpretations shine through. For a wrestling match in the first act, music from WWF rings out and the wrestler is dressed in bright red spandex. In addition, figures with furry cone hats, Oriental tunics and platform shoes come out to chant during the match. They look completely out of place and the reason behind their costumes is just as mysterious. The set design is also notable for its aesthetically pleasing fall motif. The stage was washed in whimsical autumn tones with soft light and granny smith apple green ladders representing trees in the forest.
Though the play is challenged by an occasionally slow, dialogue-heavy script, the actors' performances are entertaining and impressive. While "As You Like It" is no action thriller, you will giggle at the staged wrestling match, sigh at the beautiful singing and shake your head in disbelief at love triangles galore.
"As You Like It" will be at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. S.E. until Nov. 25. Student rush tickets can be purchased half-off one hour prior to the show. In the hour before the show begins, be sure to check out the Folger Library's exhibit "Marketing Shakespeare." The gallery showcases some of the library's extensive collection of photos and memorabilia from 1789-1805 and beyond.