A hip and collegiate “As You Like It”

This weekend the creative crew of the What You Will Shakespeare Company offers up a delightful tongue-in-cheek take on William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. While the leads seemed nervous, the supporting ensemble enrich the production by incorporating some new faces and marked growth in some old ones. The text has been rearranged to highlight the contrast between the Arden bohemians and the uptight court, all complemented with a considered soundtrack.

And like all the productions we have seen this semester from WYW, the troupe’s sense of space and direct application of a specific interpretive theme made for a fun and successful evening. In this production, the banished Duke Senior (John Jaeger) and his merry band of men are depicted as hipster rebels not willing to adhere to the Man, literally. The production makes good use of the very specific Midwestern hipster aesthetic of skinny jeans, converse high-tops, and flannel to play up the contrast between country and court, sycophant and free thinker.

As a point of contrast, Oliver (John Rynecki) sports a polo shirt with canvas shorts to match and a Winchester knot, while  Rosalind’s (Nora Ellis) Ganymede employs an ironically large knitted sweater with an ironically curled mustache to match. The choice suits the tenor of this “green play”: Duke Senior holds court in the woods, and his jovial nature and generous proffers of cannabis quickly assuages the lost, hungry, and angst-y Orlando (Eddy Jimenez).

Typically I do not tend to focus heavily on individual roles and actors unless it refers to some holistic effect in the production, but I feel the nature of this play and performance warrant a comment. Ellis and Jimenez had a lot of lines to swallow, and both executed thoughtful individual characterizations that only struggled when confronted with the need to work in tandem. In short, I was convinced of Orlando and Rosalind’s sense of self-hood, but not of their love for one another.

On the other hand, each supporting actor had a great sense of their characters and how they worked and responded to one another. Phebe (Emily Murdoch) and Silvius (Ryan Weber) never missed producing a laugh. Nathan Luft (Malvolio in an earlier production this season) brings a great sense of under-stated-ness and dry wit to his multiple parts (La Beau/Sir Oliver Martext/Jacques de Boys), but best yet is newcomer Sam Katz (Corin/Lord/Charles the Wrestler/William). His Antler-Wearing Phish-head Wisonsonian version of William was pricelessly funny in affect alone, and he has a great sense of his body and facial expressions to make the most difficult expository passages make meaning and farce.

This production’s strong sense of style–capitalizing on Midwestern ironic hipsters and their suburban counterparts–coupled with cohesive ensemble work makes this a production both thoughtful and pleasurable. This might even be a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of work in that its collegiate and regional referentiality works best (if only) with a young adult audience of the ‘Ots.

  • The What You Will Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It plays at the University YMCA on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus until 12 March.
  • Coming up in WYW’s Spring Season at the University Place Christian Church:
    • John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, April 8 & 9 at 8:00pm
    • William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, April 29 & 30 at 8:00pm