BANNER ELK, N.C. — Witty verbal exchanges, disguises, dysfunctional families, many lovers trying to find the perfect mates, and four marriages to end it all. Sounds like a lot to fit into one play, but William Shakespeare did just that in his pastoral comedy As You Like It, which is the spring production of the Lees-McRae College Performing Arts program.
As You Like It will be presented February 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. and February 26 at 2 p.m. in Hayes Auditorium in the Broyhill Theatre.
Since its possible debut in 1599, As You Like It has been considered one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining comedies. Duke Frederick has overthrown his brother, Duke Senior, and banished him into the Forest of Arden. Oliver de Boyes mistreats his younger brother, Orlando, and eventually Orlando is forced to flee the court and hide in the forest, but not before falling in love at first sight with Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind. Frederick then banishes Rosalind, who disguises herself as a boy and flees with Frederick’s daughter, Celia, into the forest.
That’s when all the fun begins.
“We see their paths converge in the forest where things are not always as they appear,” said Dr. Michael Hannah, director of As You like It and associate professor of performing arts. “Rosalind and Celia hide their true identities to test Orlando’s love.”
What follows is a story of love, deception and redemption as the characters contrast life in the socially restrictive court with the freedom they find in wild nature. The woods are dangerous, but they also allow the characters to behave in ways that would never have been acceptable in the civilized court.
Hannah explained that the original staging of As You Like It would have been typical of Shakespeare’s plays. Only men and boys acted on his stage, so the heroine Rosalind would have been played by a boy, pretending to be a girl who then pretends to be a boy, only to return to playing a girl in the end. Maybe it is a little confusing to a modern audience, but to Shakespeare’s audiences it would have been perfectly normal.
“Shakespeare offers some interesting commentary on the role of women in society, at least as we see it today,” Hannah said. “Rosalind becomes an intellectual match for any man in the play once she is free to express herself as a man would. For this very good reason Rosalind has become one of Shakespeare’s most popular heroines, one that many famous women actors are eager to play.”
The play is also one of Shakespeare’s most musical productions. There are four songs included in the script, and each one comments on one of the play’s themes.
Aside from Rosalind and Orlando, the play features other well-known Shakespearean characters, such as Touchstone (the Clown) and Jaques, who gets to speak one of the Bard’s most famous monologues when he says, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
“Shakespeare loved to use the metaphor of the stage to represent the world as a whole, and this speech is one almost everyone recognizes,” Hannah said.
The Lees-McRae production is set physically in the American Midwest around the middle of the 1800s. Hannah said this choice, plus the fact that the actors are not using British dialects, hopefully brings the timelessness of Shakespeare’s story to life for a modern audience.
The cast for As You like It is large, Hannah said, because he wanted to give as many students as possible their chance to be involved. Rosalind is portrayed by freshman Taylor Noll from Fredericksburg, VA., while her love interest, Orlando, is played by senior Andy Duggins from Winston-Salem. Other cast members include senior Naythen Rinehart from Kill Devil Hills as Duke Frederick, sophomore Sabrina Becker from Oneida, New York, as Celia, freshman Logan Bryant from Burnsville as Oliver, senior Sammy Campbell from High Point as Touchstone, sophomore Bradley Sowell from Yorktown, Virginia, as Duke Senior, and freshman Mark Williams from Virginia as Jaques.
The full cast is as follows: John Michael Sloan as Adam, Lucas Childress as Charles, Peggy Ellyn Wasmund as Phoebe, Jakob Sanchez as Silvius, Lee DeWeese as Corin, Aubrey Pond as Le Beau, Mekayla Boswell as Audrey, Sarah Emaline Melton and Cole Kennedy as Amiens, Sarah Gentry as Hymen, Alice Gomez as Dennis, Katelyn Dancy as Jaques de Boys and Kyndsey Rounds as William. Appearing as various lords and ladies are Novita Hardy, Ashley Hartwig, Rayna Theriot, Kelsey Martin, Anna Parrish, Kellyn Hawley and Ali Spencer.
Tickets are available at the door one hour before the performance and are $12 for adults and $5 for non-Lees-McRae students. For more information, call the box office at 828-898-8709 or go to lmc.edu/pashows