The buzz that you’re most likely to have heard about the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama’s production of Shakespeare’s As You like It is that the Dukes are Duchesses. If you’re deeper into the gossip then you’ll know that the hero Orlando’s vicious older brother Oliver is his sister Olivia, the melancholic Jacques is a woman. And, just to make the final wedding scene even more interesting, the shepherdess Phebe is Peter.
Females playing male roles are nothing new to area theatre goers. Sometimes it’s for artistic reasons, but more often out of necessity. IU’s director Fontaine Syer has the luxury of some freedom in her casting choices with very enjoyable results. In this production the cross casting lets us see familiar characters in a new light. We have the opportunity to hear famous speeches in a different key. And we can examine some of the conflicts through the lens of estrogen instead of testosterone.
Sarah McCarroll played the usurping Duchess with very high heels and high dudgeon at court and the banished Duchess withmore comfortable shoes and relaxed attitude in the forest. I was struck with the difference the gender switch made in an angry scene that she has with Kristl Densley who played Rosalind. As the usurping Duchess’s anger grew she slapped the girl. It was a very dramatic moment and just couldn’t have happened with a male Duke.
Kristl Densley did make a spirited Rosalind and Gina DeSerio as her partner Celia had some nicely staged moments of humor.
Frankly, many of the changes of gender in As You Like It didn’t have much effect on the story for me. Kate Suffern as the pert LaBelle instead of LeBeau, Chelsea Gill as the song-full Amiens, Isabel Dieppa as the clever shepherd Corrine instead of Corin all went by without a thought about gender. They were all fine and Dieppa, especially was a delight as the wise older shepherd. Sarah Fischer was fine as Jaques. It did seem a bit fresher to hear the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from a mezzo instead of a baritone.
Evan Mayer playing Peter instead of Phebe did make for some more dramatic changes that had a neat resolution. In the original play, Phebe is wooed by the shepherd Sylvius. But Phebe fetches her affection on the boy-clad Rosalind. Things get sorted out just prior to the weddings when Rosalind reveals herself as a woman who is of course out of bounds for Phebe. In this production with the male/male romance at stake, Rosalind as a woman is again out of the picture. It was a clever resolution that so nicely paralleled the original that it was a pleasant surprise.
I’m not quite sure how to work this into a short review, but I was struck by how many references there are to time, to clocks, hours and minutes. There’s Jaques account of Touchstone’s speech of time that ripes and then rots. Of Course Jaques own “Seven Ages of Man.” And then there are a number of times when love is measured out in time and appointments are specified at specific hours. Curiously they all happen in the Forest. I wondered if Hyunsuk Shin’s nicely shaped and proportioned scenic design reflected this as more and more latticed scrims enclosed the space.
I do have to mention that the Ruth N. Halls Theatre does swallow voices and it’s only the cast’s excellent diction that gets the text across. With musicals routinely using mics and even the opera doing some sound reinforcement, perhaps its time for straight theatre to consider it as well.
IU’s As You like It is a nicely creative, carefully thought out production. The cross casting makes for additional interest while preserving the language with only minor changes from “hims” to “hers.” It’s well acted and involving with an accomplished and attractive cast.
The production continues with performances through Saturday November 21st.
Listen to an interview with assistant director Jonathan Courtemanche.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Ruth N. Halls Theatre
November 13, 14 and 17-21, 2009