The following article appeared in the
Greenfield Recorder on Thursday, June 28, 2001.
'As You like it' shines in new outdoor venue in Hadley
By RAY HARRIS, Special to the Recorder
I suppose the great outdoors is the best place to watch a Shakespearean pastoral comedy, but I have to wonder what the bard would have thought of low-flying 747s and helicopters over his blissful Forest of Arden, the setting for "As You Like It."
Outdoors on the grounds of the Hartsbrook School in Hadley is the new venue of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, which used to perform in the courtyard of the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst until a new and noisy air conditioning unit drove them out.
The new and permanent home for the company, now in its 11th year, has magnificent mountain views; and talk about a pastoral setting for a pastoral play: off in the distance cows graze and do all the other pastoral things that cows do. The view alone is worth the price of admission.
One of the advantages that producers and directors have when working with Shakespeare is that his creations are so timeless that you can reset them in any time frame you want to and they work. In this case, producer Sarah Wilson and director Andrew Lichtenberg chose to give "As You Like It" a 1960s flavor by dressing the actors to resemble the flower cchildren of that era. Remember the "back-to-nature" movement? The do-your-own-thing and the let-it-all-hang-out ethos of the young baby boomers? That's sort of what Shakespeare had in mind when he sent lords and ladies of a banished court to cavort with simple shepherds and woodsmen in the Forest of Arden. But lest you Shakespearean purists be put off by such adaptations, let me assure you that the dialogue in this performance is pure Shakespeare.
Shakespeare scholar G.B. Harrison has pointed out that "As You Like It" marked a turning point in the way the bard wrote. Before "As You Like It," Shakespeare put as much emphasis on plot as he did on character. Most of the history plays were written prior to 1599 and were interesting as much for their plots and situations as for the character studies of the kings and courtiers involved.
The comedies that preceded "As You Like It" generally emphasized the nutty situations over any interest in characterization, perhaps like a Marx Brothers or Three Stooges flick. But "As You Like It" contains some serious satire and interesting characterization, especially in the characters of Touchstone, the rapier-witted fool and Jaques, the melancholy philosopher. It is more than simple pastoral romance.
Lon Bull as Jaques delivers the famous "Seven Ages of Man" soliloquy as well as any fan of Shakespeare could want. ("All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players") The character of Touchstone is said to be a precursor of the famous fool in "King Lear," and it's a difficult part to do well. Harry Bauld delivers the role admirably and is the source of most of the laughs.
Two other performers who need to be singled out for their importance in contributing to the fun are Sandra Blaney, who plays the heroine Rosalind, and Elaine Qualter, who plays Celia, Rosalind's best friend and companion. In addition to having some of the longest and most challenging lines in the play, they squeal, scream and prance about delightfully as they plot the romantic fate of Orlando (Paco Tolson), the love-besotted hero who wanders around the woods, posting bad poetry on trees.
Particular kudos are due three members of the very talented Lichtenberg family who are major contributors to the success of the show.
Drew Lichtenberg, who composed the music for the five songs, in the play, accompanies the singing of them on guitar and plays three roles. Nicholas Lichtenberg plays Silvius, a shepherd and Andrew Lichtenberg is the very imaginative director of the performance. It wouldn't be all that remarkable for father and sons to be in the same show, except that the twin boys are veteran Shakespeareans at age 17 and just heading for university in the fall.
The company works extensively with young actors and last year introduced their Young Company, student actors who participate as chorus in the adult productions, and who will be presenting their own separate production of "As You Like It" this year. The company also offers summer theater workshops in all aspects of acting and production, which probably accounts for the exceptional representation of young people in the audience.
Shakespeare lives on.
Performances continue Wednesday through Sunday, from June 27 to July 8, except there is no performance on July 4. The Hartsbrook School is off of Route 47 in Hadley, but not all that easy to find if you don't know the area. I suggest you call for directions, 548-8118, or log on to their Web site, where they give directions complete with a map: www.hampshireshakespeare.org. Tickets are $12 and $9; $6 for those under 18.