This pastoral comedy, written around 1600, features what's possibly the playwright's most famous (and frequently quote) speech, “All the world's a stage.”
Like most Shakespearen comedies, it's full of cross-dressers, crossed lovers and crossed destinies – in this case, the destinies of cousins Rosalind and Celia and brothers Orlando and Oliver.
“It's one of those wacky Shakespearean comedy plots,” said Director Jeb Berrier, in the midst of moving this weekend's production of the 18-actor play, set in the fictitious Forest of Arden and in a French castle, from a tiny inside rehearsal space to the Telluride Town Park stage, where two weekends' worth of performances begin Friday night, “where a girl dressed as a boy goes into the woods,” at the same time that a boy whom she has met once, and has fallen in love, “has run away into the forest to save is own life,” imperiled by an older brother “who wants to kill him.
“It's full of really mean people,” said Berrier, adding he tends to choose comedies “because they're more accessible.
“I don't feel I have earned the right to put shows on out there that are overly challenging the audience,” said Berrier, who traveled the US with the National Shakespeare Co., out of New York City, before emerging as a bright light in the world of Telluride theater, choosing his words carefully, but rather “should invite the audience to something where they say, 'Hey, that sounds like fun – that sounds like a nice, light play for summer and it sounds like a great evening.'
“There are lots of great parts, and lots of great women's parts, which is really rare.
“Other good parts are Touchstone, one of the famous fools of Shakespeare,” played by Emily Koren, “and Jacques, the melancholy lord who recites the 'Seven Stages of Man' speech,” played by Buff Hooper, “who,” unlike the foursome who find themselves in the forest in various disguises “is not in love with anyone – he's in love with sadness; he's in love with melancholy, which he loves more than life itself. He enjoys being sad.”
Berrier chose As You Like It, he said, in part because, “to me, there's a lot of love and hate in this play,” with two cases “of brother against brother,” the requisite star-crossed lovers and, in both cases, characters who express “hatred for people who everybody else loves.To that end, he said, Shakespeare “is absolutely not quaint. I see it as good theater, that's still relevant today, because the things he talks about – the themes – are still relevant. To me, there's a lot of love and the in the play. In the beginning, the play is all about people fighting with one another, people at odds with one another, brother against brother.
“I think everybody has both of those qualities in them, if you stop and think about it. We're all jealous of other people in some way, or have been at some time.
“Really,” said Berrier, “the struggle with Shakespeare is, how do you make clear what it is that you're saying? How do you make it understandable? To do that, first you have to understand it yourself, and my job is to help everybody get theorem Once you understand it yourself, then you can say the lines so it really sounds like something. The big challenge with Shakespeare is to bring it to life and make it understandable.
“Life is Shakespearean,” he said. “When you say that, you're usually looking at things that are happening on a more global or political level, like an assassination or a coup, but that's just part” of the constant dance between good and evil that's in the hearts of men. Shakespeare, Berrier suggests, “writes about how we have qualities of both,” and, in the course of doing so, “gives us this multi-faceted world view so that even the bad guy might talk about his reasons for being a bad guy,” as happens in this play, and, as also happens in this play, “with redemption for all of the people who start out as bad guys.”
An engaging tale for tough times, perhaps, and one from which, as is always true of engaging with Shakespeare, we can earn something about ourselves.
Showtimes are Friday, Aug. 19-Sunday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m., and Wednesday, Aug. 24-Saturday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday, Aug. 28 matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tix available at Wizard Entertainment; for info, call 970/728-4539. Opening Night Patrons Party with wine and hors d’oeuvres, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, $50 per person.