Injustice. Love at first sight. Urban corruption. Nature celebrated. Synthetic Unlimited’s production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” wittily showcases all of these topics in a modern reading of the classic comedy. Scholars surmise that Shakespeare wrote this play sometime between 1598 and 1600. Yet the themes that weave through the play are contemporary, enhanced by director Jeffrey Mason’s creative decision to incorporate nods to aberrant corporate culture, cell phones and current fashion. This is a well-done, fun and accessible show.
Although there are many subplots, the main scenario portrays aggrieved city dwellers escaping to a rural forest environment and eventually discovering a lot about themselves, all while learning to celebrate life in the country. The chief protagonist is Rosalind, the daughter of an usurped duke, who disguises herself as a young man to ensure her own safe passage when she escapes from city to forest. Confusion of gender and role-playing are ploys oft-used by Shakespeare, and here they are employed quite humorously.
This is a tale of love manifested in its varied forms: love at first sight, all-consuming love, rebuffed love, love between friends. There is even a parody of love in the romance between the Fool and the unkempt shepherdess.
Performed with a minimal set and limited props in Synthetic Unlimited’s intimate black box theater, audience members are so close to the stage that they feel drawn into the action, and are invited to experience both the urban and forest environments by using their imagination. Actors enter and leave from both sides of the stage and from behind the audience, creating the illusion of a much larger space. Tom Taylor’s well-designed lighting assists that process.
Grace Fae as Rosalind imbues her character with dynamism, intelligence and humor. When in charade as the young man, Fae’s rakish appearance and portrayal of cocky mannerisms are very amusing. Victoria Sanders gives an appealing and convincing performance as Celia, Rosalind’s cousin and best friend. As Touchstone the Fool, Micah Cone is in fine form, jocularly cavorting about the stage. And Susan Mason, as the melancholy Jaques, recites some of the best known lines in English literature when she soliloquizes, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players...” Some of the actors play dual roles, with one identity in the city, a different one in the forest. Notable among them is Scott Young as both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior.
Often, people avoid Shakespeare because they have had a bad experience with a previous production or have difficulty grasping the seemingly strange — to American ears — dialogue. If that has been your experience, this would be a good time to reintroduce yourself to a well-done presentation that is understandable, amusing, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everyone has fun at this show, both audience and actors.
Catch a performance through Aug. 10. Go to http://www.syntheticunlimited.org/ for more information.
Hindi Greenberg has loved Shakespeare ever since her excellent 11th-grade English teacher spent a month on Macbeth. Since then, she’s seen performances of or read most of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.