It’s a hard task to keep people interested in a Shakespeare play in this day and age. For one, that’s because it’s nearly impossible to make Shakespeare relatable to the average audience. Hold Thy Peace director Barbara Spidle ’15 modernized “As You Like It” using a Boston theme. There is no better play to sum up the crazy, silly, historic, competitive nature of a college city such as Boston than “As You Like It.” It totally made sense. Of course Touchstone’s holier-than-thou demeanor went perfectly with that of an Emerson student. The creative, awkward, socially aware Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, is the Brandeis student. The head-in-the-clouds, alternative, goofy farmer is the shepherd. With a cast of 15 talented actors, HTP’s fall show was packed with the laughter of students who truly enjoyed Shakespeare.
Despite the fact that the Boston theme was specified in the director’s note, I wish the theme was more prevalent and expanded on within the play. The set was very minimalistic and did not reflect the theme at all. The one set change that did take place was distracting and took away from the overall focus of the show. Since only a fraction of the show was not set in the forest, I did not understand why a full office set was used. Furthermore because the set was so simple, I might not have known where the play took place without the added help of the actor’s lines.
Tova Weinberger ’18 (Rosalind) and Jessica Spierer ’18 (Celia)’s performances were both genuine and honest. Through intimate contact such as holding hands, they established their close relationship. Shakespeare plays are known to lack stage directions, so Spidle complicated their mocking relationship, the kind only cousins have, by adding additional stage directions. In the spirit of Rosalind and Celia’s relationship, Spidle added exits for Celia. Additional humor was found when Celia reentered to see the ridiculousness of the scene continuing. Spierer added an eye-roll and exacerbated sigh to poke fun at the situation. This added personality enhanced the performance and acknowledged the improbability and hilarity of the play.
While Brandeis theater veterans like Spierer and Weinberger showed off their talent, other actors fell short. Some of the rookies seemed to overact, and as a result, their characters seemed overly dramatic and emotional as if they were acting in a tragedy rather than a ridiculous comedy. On the opposite end, some actors lacked basic skills such as comedic timing and clear enunciation.
A few additional elements that distracted me from the plot were the added lines the actors said. They swore and added quick side quips in modern English. To me this felt like cheating to get the theme across; their acting should have provided enough plot cues. Additionally, they spoke in modern English and Shakespeare’s lines at random intervals without a pattern, so the play proved confusing.
The props were also problematic. The shepherd carried sheep stuffed animals around with her, which brought me out of the performance entirely. The play could have easily progressed without the sheep props and left me wondering whether they were supposed to be real sheep or if the shepherd was insane.
Although some actors fell short and the technical elements were less than perfect, there were many talented students in “As You Like It,” and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the experience.