The University of Rhode Island’s theatre program presented William Shakespeare’s classic pastoral comedy play “As You Like It” with a little twist this past weekend at URI’s Fine Arts Center.
Instead of sticking to the play’s original 1600s setting, the theatre company took a mid-1960s perspective, under the direction of Alan F. Hawkridge.
The original play is set in a duchy, a territory ruled by a duke, in France and follows the duke’s daughter and heroine Rosalind. Rosalind flees persecution in her Uncle Frederick’s court after being banished and is accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. The trio seeks safety and eventually finds love in the Forest of Arden. Along their journey, the three runaways encounter a variety of characters, including the melancholy traveler Jaques, who is known for giving one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, “All the world’s a stage.”
Alexandra Walsh played the role of Rosalind in URI’s production, with Devin Vietri as Celia and Gabe Gager as Touchstone. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, played by Ben Church, after winning a wrestling competition in one of the first scenes, but must flee the duchy as well after being persecuted by his brother, Oliver. Rosalind disguises herself as a young man named Ganymede and Celia disguises herself as a poor lady who goes by the name Aliena. Since the play is set in the 1960s, Rosalind dons a mustache, long hair and headband.
After arriving in the forest, Orlando and his servant Adam, played by Stephen Peterson, find the exiled Duke and his group of supporters. Orlando begins to post love poems for Rosalind in the trees. Ganymede, the disguised Rosalind runs into him and she pretends to counsel him in order to cure him of his vexing emotions.
The Shepherdess, Phoebe, played by Christine O’Connell, falls for Ganymede, although Silvius, played by Belamy Brophy-Baermann, has fallen deeply in love with her. Touchstone falls in love with a dull-witted shepherdess, Audrey, played by Christine Dickinson and although he tries to woo her, he is instead forced to marry.
Conclusively, Silvius, Phoebe, Ganymede and Orlando are brought together in an argument over who will marry who. Ganymede promises to solve the problem, having Orlando promise to marry Rosalind and Phoebe promise that she will marry Silvius if she cannot marry Ganymede. Oliver, played by Stephen Peterson, meets Aliena and immediately falls in love with her. After Rosalind reveals herself and Aliena as Celia, the confusion amongst the characters is resolved.
Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phoebe and Touchstone and Audrey are all married in one final scene. The show ends with an epilogue for the audience by Rosalind, speaking to both men and women.
The show was filled with an array of surprises, including 60s clothing, electronic cigarettes, guitars, singing performances and lots of hippies. After the final curtsies, the actors invited the audience on stage to dance along to the final song.
Vietri, a URI senior, explained how the first opening days of the show went really well and she feels very fortunate to be a part of such a “collaborative and supportive ensemble.” She believes that the audiences have been responding very positively to the production because the change in time period is easier for people to understand and helps Shakespeare’s words come to life.
“I am happy to be ending my senior year with such a fun show!” Vietri said. “Before every show, Alexandra Walsh (Rosalind) and I say to one another to go out and have as much fun as possible. I think when the actors really understand and enjoy the language, audience members are able to do the same!”
After graduation, Vietri plans to attend Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. to pursue Drama Therapy, a form of Expressive Arts therapy. If time permits, she hopes to act in her spare time.
Likewise, Walsh plans on using her double major in theatre and Public Relations to her advantage. Walsh would like to attain a job working with social media for a small business and hopefully get into PR with a theatre audition there.
Walsh explained how the nerves kick in and get adrenaline pumping for each show, but the whole cast has been waiting for the moment to perform since they first read through the script in February. She claimed that the show is very “groovy” and that it is different than other plays, since they have the opportunity to perform in a setting where the audience can view from every angle.
“I have been at URI for the past four years and this is our last show. I want people to come, watch and share our passion of the theatre,” Walsh said. “We put our hearts and energy onto the stage. I hope everyone gets a chance to see our creative team work together, you won’t see something like this again.”
The next showings of “As You Like It” are on April 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. and on April 26 at 3 p.m. at URI’s Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $15 for seniors and URI faculty/staff and $12 for students.