Above: The Very Little Theatre’s version of “As You Like It” is pure Shakespeare in language but with a decidedly “hipster” twist. (Photos by John Bauguess)
By Randi Bjornstad
There’s been a lot of Shakespeare going around this year, mainly because it’s the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s death, and theaters everywhere want to pay their respects.
The Very Little Theatre is doing that by ending its 88th season with a production of “As You Like It.”
It is the traditional plot with the traditional characters, but VLT has given their version a modern interpretation, peopled by hipster characters and complete with musical numbers and a theatrical feel that evokes nothing quite so much as — and definitely purposefully — Lane County’s own fabled Oregon Country Fair.
But given all that, it’s still the story of Rosalind, who flees for her life from the royal court with her cousin, Celia, and a jester called Touchstone, to find safety in the Forest of Arden.
Naturally, there are good guys and bad guys and plenty of intrigue involved, as Shakespeare is wont to do. Rosalind’s dad is a duke who was previously banished from the court, and his younger brother, Frederick — her uncle and father of Celia — took over the dukedom and raised Rosalind along with his own daughter.
But when Celia falls in love with young Orlando, Uncle Duke Frederick throws her out and threatens her with death should she try to return.
The loyal Celia takes the attitude that if her best friend and cousin is banished, so is she. Rosalind dresses up as a boy named Ganymede, and she and Celia and Touchstone head for the woods.
As you might expect, she’s bound to run into Orlando again, and she does, in the Forest of Arden, where he has gone with his servant after also being banished, in his case by his older brother.
Of course, when they meet he thinks Rosalind is a nice guy named Ganymede, which gives her the opportunity to set up an elaborate scheme, using that disguise, to find out once and for all if Orlando really loves Rosalind as much as he originally proclaimed. In the process, she ends up giving Orlando advice on how to win the heart of a woman, all the while hoping he’ll figure out that she’s been there, loving him, the entire time.
It’s a good-sized cast of 19 players, led by Jennifer Appleby as Rosalind, Joel Ibánez as Orlando, Andrea Lee as Celia and Scott Frazier-Maskiell as Touchstone.
Dan Pegoda takes the part of Jaques, a melancholy and cynical follower of Rosalind’s father, played by Penta Swanson. Larry Fried is Duke Frederick. Other actors in the show include Jon Lowery, Blake Beardsley, Ryan Sayegh, Cloud Pemble, Rudy Wilson, James Aday, Sheldon Hall, Christian Mitchell, Melanie Moser, Brittany Dorris, Sarah Glidden and Jessica Baker.
In her written comments introducing the show, Darlene Rhoden, who’s directing the production, said she likes the play in part because Rosalind is Shakespeare’s “most fully realized female character” and also because “As You Like It” is the repository of many of his most easily recognized quotations.
“But it’s too easy to dismiss it as a silly romp,” Rhoden said, “so we have set our tale in a discordant contemporary world, where brother turns against brother and perceived wrongs are answered with violent revenge.”
Her goal is to portray the characters in all their complexity, and also to hold out the possibility that “in the end, all will find a little piece of what they are looking for in this life.”
As You Like It
When: 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 4-5, 10-12 and 17-19; and 2 p.m. on Aug. 6 and 13
Where: 2350 Hilyard St., Eugene
Tickets: $15 to $19, available at the box office, 541-344-7751, or online at TheVLT.com/