On Friday, November 9, two dozen souls braved the weather and went to Dog Story Theater, where they warmed themselves with Pigeon Creek’s production of As You Like It, Shakespeare’s coziest and most accommodating comedy.
The heart of the story is Rosalind (Lauren Vesbit), a beautiful young woman exiled from the court of her uncle. Dressed as a man and accompanied by her cousin Celia (Kimi Griggs), she makes for the Forest of Arden, where she meets many people. Among them is Orlando (Riley Van Ess), a young man she had briefly met in court, and with whom she had plunged into love. The play, which started in violence, ends in marriage — four marriages, in fact: an abundance of joy.
This production is set in the 1960s, although not aggressively so; Pigeon Creek doesn’t use elaborate sets, so only the clothes, props and songs give off a whiff of patchouli (yes, songs: the play proper includes several songs, which are delivered here to such melodies as “Sweet Caroline”). Modern productions of Shakespeare are often set in different eras, which can seem like a defensive grab at relevance (“See? Antony and Cleopatra even works in the ’20s!”).
But it’s gently done here, and Arden’s forest-dwellers translate well enough to ’60s back-to-nature types. Clad in men’s clothing and calling herself Ganymede, Rosalind meets for a second time the man who had won her heart by kicking the ass of a guy in a luchador mask. Rosalind in pants might as well be Superman with glasses; Orlando doesn’t recognize her. But, in a clunky development, he allows himself to pretend Ganymede is her anyway. The scenes in which Rosalind, disguised as a man, attempts to mock-woo him could give birth to a hundred gender studies papers, and likely have.
Look: the play’s called As You Like It; Shakespeare knew he’d written a crowd-pleaser. This production embraced that, wringing out every ounce of humor to be found in the wrestling ring and the dancefloor. The jester, Touchstone, (Scott Wright) was given time and space for all his caperies, and his love, Audrey (Sarah Stark), leered and writhed with such intensity that I half-wondered if I should cover my eyes. To a person, everyone in the cast demonstrated comfort and confidence with the language. No one stumbled; no one was under-rehearsed. The best performances had a real sense of play. John Vesbit’s Oliver, older brother to Orlando, was a wonderful villain; that he disappointed upon his unexpected conversion to kindness was less Vesbit’s fault than Shakespeare’s, who never bothered to justify it.
There are no perfect plays, but some are less perfect than others. Unlikely events pile up. Worse, the center shifts; Touchstone should be a minor character, but he’s given too much to do (although his “All the world’s a stage” speech is rightly iconic). Individual scenes have magic, but not enough to rank it among the best of his work. Still: see it. To miss it would be to miss Kimi Griggs’ Celia, who is wonderfully and subtly played; she’s manipulative, fun, and fiercely loyal, the kind of person brave enough to accompany you into a new world and spirited enough to make it a good time. If plays don’t have MVP trophies, more’s the pity; my vote would be for Griggs to receive it this time.
And see it for the humor. Laughing at Shakespeare sounds like the kind of thing people do to make themselves look smart, like putting Proust dust jackets over E.L. James novels. But the production is genuinely funny, not in the sense of “oh, how droll” but “this was so funny I forget it’s supposed to be high-brow.” Several times, audience members laughed so hard they might have been at a standup show.
Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company is doing the Lord’s work, or at least the bard’s. It deserves to be supported. Better, it deserves to be enjoyed. “As You Like It” makes that case as well as they’ve ever made it.
As You Like It
Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company