In Shakespeare’s niche comedy As You Like It, the character Jacques famously proclaims, “all the world’s a stage.” But in Theatre UCF’s production of the play, the world is reflected on stage with modern insight.
Reimagined in 1930’s Europe, Theatre UCF’s As You Like It comments on the faults of society’s power structures without sacrificing hope and fun. Full of Shakespeare’s classic tropes like gender-swapping, love triangles and comedic misunderstandings, the play also subverts many audience expectations. As You Like It opens Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Black Box Theatre at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 20.
“For this season, I wanted to direct a play that gave us the possibility of regeneration and renewal,” says Director Vivian Majkowski. “Especially with the social and cultural morass that this country is in, and also coming out of lockdowns and COVID measures, As You Like It offers a space for people to remember love, connection and the idea that when we pause and see what’s around us, the beauty is infinite.”
The story follows Rosalind, the Duke’s daughter, who is banished from the court after her uncle usurps the throne. She, her cousin Celia, and the court jester flee to the Forest of Arden where they encounter an array of colorful characters including Rosalind’s love interest, Orlando. In the freedom of the forest, Rosalind and Orlando establish their identities beyond gender roles and societal expectations.
“The Forest of Arden represents the possibilities of the human soul outside the need for pomp and accolades,” Majkowski says. “It’s about learning how to listen. It’s about learning how to speak your needs and your truth. It’s about trying to be vulnerable. And in that state of vulnerability, the possibility of love, love that is true, can be realized.”
Originally a five-act play, Theatre UCF’s interpretation is shortened to one hour and a half act, focusing on the heart of the story’s action. Tyler Stevens, a first year MFA acting student who plays Orlando, hopes the fast-paced production will make Shakespeare more accessible for new audiences.
“It’s a really great show for people who maybe have written off Shakespeare,” Stevens says. “We had a long table process at the beginning of rehearsal which not only helped us understand what we were saying but gave us an opportunity to really fall in love with the story and the text and the characters before getting on our feet and fully bringing the play to life.”
Shakespeare wrote five songs for As You Like It, and it is considered his only “musical”. In Theatre UCF’s production, student actors will sing and play instruments on stage. Some songs will feature Shakespeare’s original lyrics set to 1930’s tunes, and others are replaced in favor of period songs like “Stardust” and “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
“We’ve set the play in the 1930’s as a frame to help us see all the themes of the play reflected in our day,” Majkowski says. “Besides the universality of love at first sight, the human desire for power and its corrupting effects leading to the ‘envious court’ in our play has parallels in the fascism of the 1930’s and its rise today. Humans are creatures of habit and Shakespeare, better than any dramatist, helps us see those desires and impulses clearly again and again.”
Tickets are $25 for general admission and $10 for students with ID from any school. The full show schedule and tickets are available here.
The cast and crew will be hosting a talkback on Sunday, Nov. 13 directly following the performance in the Black Box Theatre.