SDSU’s ‘As You Like It’ is unorthodox, yet great

by David Dixon

Courtesy Alex Matsuo

When Jon Huckaby enters the stage in burlesque, drag-queen garb and starts singing original songs with a guitar, it is clear this is not a typical interpretation of William Shakespeare’s classic comedy, “As You Like It.”

Set in modern times, Rosalind (Katie Rich) is the daughter of the well-liked Duke Senior (Jessica Christman) who is banished by his despicable brother, Frederick. Upon discovering Frederick has ordered her into exile, Rosalind leaves with her cousin, Celia (Chanel Lucia) and the clownish Touchstone (Erika Appel) to find shelter.

The three stumble into Duke’s Deep Woods, a burlesque/drag club, where Rosalind disguises herself as a man. She soon meets Orlando (Aaron Drake), a man who developed strong feelings for the real Rosalind.

Shakespeare purists take note: This version takes big liberties with the text. The first part of the play is considerably condensed. Early scenes are shortened and take place on a projector to incorporate both snippets of the original script and “TMZ” commentary to help explain relationships between the main characters in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

After the extended intro, the rest of the show moves to Duke’s Deep Woods. Even though the opening moments do a great job of simplifying the preface, so many characters are encountered in the nightclub that it takes awhile to figure out who everyone is.

Direct Peter Cirino accomplishes the feeling of visiting a real dive, replicating the highs and lows of going to such an establishment. There are fights, drunken revelry and ridiculously abnormal behavior. Despite this, the dive-bar environment is an amazing place to dance, have fun and not worry about being judged.

The cast does a unique job of playing famous roles very differently than what Shakespeare intended. Rich makes Rosalind smart, but also full of intentional emotional detachment. Acting incognito forces her to forget who she actually is, representing identity crisis in the 21st century.

However, Rosalind’s steely demeanor begins to break the more she talks to Orlando, revealing a lost soul hiding her emotional vulnerability.

Drake is a hilarious physical

comedian who gives Orlando both a heroic and wimpy personality. Whether sharing memorably witty dialogue with Rich or getting into an over-the-top fight with a wrestler, Drake is a pleasure to watch.

The only apparent problem on opening night was the sold-out crowd did not take advantage of the interactive aspect of “As You Like It,” where the audience is encouraged to tweet during the evening, so their messages could be displayed onto a large screen. Since everyone was invested in the story, nobody tweeted. Hopefully, attendees will be able to break away for a moment and try this out in future performances.

With offbeat and gleefully stylish direction from Cirino, “As You Like It” is an enthusiastically good time. Add cool song choices from artists such as Calvin Harris and Avicii, and the result is a wonderfully wild theatrical party. This performance shouldn’t be missed.

Tickets and information about “As You Like It” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email