As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN, 2001

Don’t forget about the sex

American master director Stephen Wadsworth reminded me that As You Like It is “not necessarily a play about love but about self-realization through exile.” British director David Leveaux, by way of advising me, said: “Don’t forget about the sex.” I kept both of these extremely sound observations in mind as we rehearsed.

With this production, I wanted to explore the journey to freedom, abandon, power and self-discovery that Rosalind takes upon her banishment from Duke Frederick’s court — the journey that begins before she changes into a man’s clothing; that begins in I, iii when Rosalind and Celia are planning their escape. I wanted to explore the two distinct forms of government at work in the play. I wanted to look at love: romantic, raucous, rude, reverential and real. In thinking about where to locate the play and how best to explore these facets of the story, I had one additional factor to consider: the Playhouse on the Square subscriber-base is unaccustomed to seeing Shakespeare.

I wanted to find a temporal and visual vocabulary that would enable us to explore a world where it is better, or at least easier, to be a man; that would support the drastically different universes of Duke Frederick’s cruel court as well as that of Duke Senior’s court in exile; and finally, crucially, that would welcome a hesitant audience into the world of the play: In looking for a setting the lent itself to limitations on the rights of women, I didn’t have to look far; any period up until yesterday afternoon will accommodate that. But to explore Rosalind’s journey while at the same time exploring the extremities and vagaries of governance, I located the production in the early 1950s, with an intolerant, HUAC-style, McCarthy-era court and a beatnik and bohemian-inhabited forest.

Reviews

Chris Blank, Memphis Commercial Appeal:
As You Like It is given a simple, down-to-earth treatment in a new production at Playhouse on the Square. There is nothing like this uncluttered, dignified staging to make one of the Bard’s most tender and thoughtful plays radiate affection.

“Director Kathleen Powers clearly enjoys the language as much as a good sight gag… the audience gets to savor some beautifully staged moments… This is Shakespeare just as you like it.”

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