“All the world’s a stage,” says the character Jaques in Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, “and all the men and women merely players.”
Immortal lines from an immortal Elizabethan comedy – indeed, one of the Bard’s most enduring and adaptable works. Over the centuries, men and women have played the As You Like It roles on many stages, in many different sorts of interpretations.
This weekend, the Masquers troupe at Armstrong Atlantic State University is turning another Shakespearean screw – As You Like It, re–set in contemporary New York City.
“I was actually watching some Mel Brooks movies, and I had been thinking of doing As You Like It,” explains director Peter Mellen. “I suddenly realized, ‘You know, I’d love to see what Mel Brooks would do with this play!’”
In the original As You Like It story, an evil French duke has exiled his brother – indeed, he’s exiled anyone he doesn’t agree with – to the Forest of Arden.
Rosalind, a member of the royal family, flees to the forest disguised as a man. There, a banished member of the court, Orlando, seeks romantic advice from the disguised Rosalind (Orlando’s in love with Rosalind, but doesn’t know he’s actually talking to her, in the manner of a lot of such comedies).
A lot of other stuff goes on, concerning false identities, unrequited love and the ever–popular battle between good and evil.
“We never actually say where we are, but the image we’re trying to create is that Orlando works at the Plaza Hotel,” Mellen explains. “That’s the palace.
“People get run out of, or run away from, the Plaza Hotel, to Central Park. Some of them are trying to escape, and others are just the people who hang out in the park.”
For his all–student cast, Mellen has retained the florid Shakespearean language – for the most part.
Radically adapting Shakespeare isn’t exactly a new idea – Kenneth Branagh once set As You Like It in 19th Century Japan – but Mellen admits he’s had quite a lot of fun with it.
“Although,” he says, “you then have the responsibility of actually telling his story, and making sure you don’t take too much of a U–turn to the point where you’re no longer actually doing his play. So we’re trying to be faithful.
“I guess my guiding principle was, he wrote a comedy, he would like people to laugh. And it’s our job to tell that story. It’s a comic love story, so we have to tell a comic love story and hopefully make people laugh.”
Who couldn’t laugh at this? In Mellen’s re–telling Frederick, the “bad duke,” is being played by a female. “Remember Leona Helmsley?” asks Mellen. “That’s her, that’s the image we’re going for.
“She took control of the Plaza Hotel, she kicked her brother out. Eventually people just get fed up with living under this horrible despot.”
As You Like It
Where: Armstrong Atlantic State University Jenkins Hall, 11935 Abercorn St.
When: At 7:30 p.m. April 28–30, May 1 at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $10 (free for AASU students, faculty and staff)