It’s the comedy of the Bard with the razzle-dazzle of Bollywood as Merced Shakespearefest finishes its 12th season with “As You Like It.”
“After directing it in Elizabethan style 10 years ago, we are putting it into India this time,” producer Heike Hambley said, “and include some energetic, fun Bollywood dancing. The story is a wonderful combination of serious animosity within families, hardship in having to escape political power and reconciliation and happy, giddy falling in love. After all it ends with four marriages.”
Featuring more than 25 actors and dancers and held in Applegate Park, “As You Like It” is presented free to the community.
The story takes place in India, first at the court of Duke Frederic, who has exiled his twin brother, the rightful Duke Senior, and the Forest of Arden, where Duke Senior and his followers, lords, pages and the melancholic Jaques are living.
What follows is a madcap tale of family feuds, mistaken identities, power struggles and some rather confusing gender issues as the heroine, Rosalind, attempts to change the fortunes of everyone in the forest and ensure a happy ending for all.
“It is my favorite Shakespearean comedy, and Rosalind is probably Shakespeare’s greatest female role, so this is really the opportunity of a lifetime,” actress Katherine Steele Brokaw said. “This is story of an empowered but wronged woman who figures out how to get what she wants, or likes, as it were. It’s the story of estranged brothers who do not, as they would in a tragedy, hurt each other, but find that, as Oliver says, kindness is ‘nobler ever than revenge.’
“It’s funny and silly and fantastical but also moving,” she said. “My favorite element of the play is the way the Shakespeare highlights the improbability of love – it’s challenging and it may involve a lie or two, but it’s also true and has its own magic.”
Shawn Overton plays the role of Touchstone, a man he said “revels in being a fool because it’s the best outlet for his wisdom.”
“The important thing about ‘As You Like It’ is that it’s fun and entertaining,” Overton said. “It’s a fun play, one of Shakespeare’s most honestly joyful pieces, and it contains some of the most famous lines he ever wrote.”
Overton’s favorite part of the play is the people involved.
“This play has been performed countless times over the past four centuries, but never with this particular mix of people,” he said. “Theater is the interaction between actors and audience through the medium of a script; a simple formula that can never be repeated. Everyone is wonderful, and going to rehearsals is something I always look forward to with this production. A cast that can laugh, as hard as it works, is wonderful to be involved with.”
Carolina Stevens plays the role of Celia, best friend to the intrepid Rosalind.
“I was thrilled to get to be a part of this production mainly because of my deep and abiding love for Shakespeare,” she said. “The text we get to work with is so full of texture and character and innuendo, it really is a joy to bring to life.”
While the play deals with some heady themes, Stevens treasures the optimism of the story.
“As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, it has a lot of themes that are relevant to today – love, betrayal, family politics, friendship, unrequited love – but what really sticks out to me about ‘As You Like It’ is the optimistic viewpoint it presents,” Stevens said. “In the world of the play love truly does conquer all, even the greatest challenges can be overcome, and love at first sight is a fact of life.”