Sunday, April 13, 2014
As I Didn't Like It
On Friday night, Joyce and I saw the Great Lakes Theater's production of As You Like It, the first play by the Bard I remember anything about. As I've written elsewhere (and perhaps even here?), I remember--when I was nine or ten--that my dad played Charles the Wrestler in a production in Enid, Oklahoma, where we were living at the time. I didn't actually see the show (why? too young? didn't want to? parents didn't think I could handle it?), but I remember Dad leaving the house, dressed in red tights (long underwear--dyed red with Rit by Mom), flexing his considerable muscles as he posed at the front door. (He'd grown up on a farm in Oregon, had played football and run track in high school and college; he could have kicked my ass at any point before he declined into a wheelchair--and even then it would have been a close call).
And, of course, I can't really remember when I didn't know "all the world's a stage"--not the entire speech, of course--just that phrase. (I do know the entire speech now.) Near the end of my career at Harmon School in Aurora, I used the "Seven Ages of Man" as the framework for one of our final Eighth Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Shows. It was more the "Seven Ages of Middle School"--and we had a good time with it. Kids recited lines from the speech to introduce each segment of the show.
I think As You Like It was the first Shakespearean play that Joyce and I saw together, too--more than forty years ago, a visiting troupe at Kent State. It was not too good, and for a time afterwards I always said I didn't care for the play.
Then, in 1996, I took some 8th graders to see what turned out to be a wonderful performance at what was then called the Great Lakes Theater Festival. The Rosalind was wonderful--but the part the kids liked the best? At the end, the god Hymen arrives unexpectedly to bless the marriages (there are four at the end), and he came out, virtually naked (a fig leaf covered ... It), but adorned in body paint and glitter. The kids went nuts when they saw him and talked all the way home about "The Glitter Guy."
Since then, I've seen it several more times (in Cleveland and Stratford, Ont.), and it is one of my favorite plays now. It's a story about learning how to love, about forgiveness, about loyalty--some of the Bard's greatest themes. And it's got the usual cross-dressing, trickery, horniness, etc. that you associate with his comedies.
But I didn't really like the version we saw on Friday. They set it in early 20th-century America (okay--I don't mind shifts of venue and time: they can be revelatory), but they used actual American songs ("I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," etc.) instead of the Bard's (grrr); they eliminated Hymen's entrance altogether (grrrr); they changed/modernized some lines (grrrrr). Among other things.
The cast was okay--a frisky Rosalind, a strong Celia, a ripped Orlando, a funny Charles the Wrestler (though nowhere near as good as Dad was, I'm sure!). The Jacques was about as dark as I've ever seen him--but he delivered "All the world's a stage" about as well as I do (!). The rustics were fun. Touchstone worked as hard as he could--Shakespeare's clowns are notoriously hard to play--and could tap dance (to the crowd's delight). But the changes bothered me so much that I just couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
But ... I saw in the audience a couple of school groups, one of them clearly middle-schoolers. And that, my friends, got my heart going flippety-flop. I only wish they'd gotten to see a (nearly) naked Glitter Guy.