As a warm wind swept through the open, green courtyard, a group of actors dressed in black and white Edwardian-era costumes entered the open space in front of a tree bristling with leaves. Music sprung to life behind them, and suddenly the actors were in motion, bowing to each other and then hugging, scolding, and dancing. If one listened close enough, there was the faraway sound of a goat’s bleating underlying the lively music.
This scene was the first of Newton South Stage and Theatre Ink’s production of As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Actors from North and South together performed the show, directed by South theater teacher Paige Perkinson, on May 18 through 20 in the Newton South Courtyard.
The show follows the lovers Rosalind and Orlando, played by South senior Abby Lass and South junior Elijah Lawrence, respectively, who embark on a journey in the Forest of Arden.
The two lovers, accompanied by a motley cast of other lovers and with the aid of disguises, word play, and helpful wingmen, try to find each other amidst a backdrop of banished nobles and shepherds all on their own journeys toward love.
According Lass, the show combines “a strong blend of over-the-top and hilarious romance that still comes from a place of truth, a beautiful outdoor setting, live music, and possibly even some baby goats.”
Senior Emily Ecker, who played Phebe, said, “Unlike a lot of other Shakespeare plays, the main love story is very believable. You watch them fall in love on stage and you’re with them for the journey. In fact, all of the love stories in it—there are four—are unique.”
What is remarkable about this play is not Rosalind and Orlando’s star-crossed love, but the fact that they are not really the main characters. Instead, the audience falls in love with Rosalind and Celia, Rosalind’s cousin and partner in crime, played by senior Charlotte Thornley.
Rosalind and Celia enter in scene two of the play with their wit, flirtatiousness, and relatability on full display. As they discuss the upcoming wrestling match between Orlando and Charles, they flirt, flounce, and shoot witticisms back and forth.
To Thornley, Celia “is practical and down to earth while her cousin is crazy with love.” Thornley said she believes she can relate to Celia in that, “She is also very strong, and stands up for the people she loves, which I’d like to hope I would do. I have a lot to learn from her. She’s got spunk.”
Thornley and Lass played their parts to perfection, creating a not just believable but also delightful camaraderie that supported the rest of the talented cast.
According to South sophomore Aviva Fidler, who played Touchstone, a noble accompanying Rosalind and Celia, the show is “unique in that we’re setting it in the Victorian Era and centered around the suffragette movement. People assume that Shakespeare plays are extremely sexist, and while sexism definitely exists in his scripts, our production toys with nontraditional gender expression and features many fierce women.”
Fidler added, “It’s all about perspective. With just a slight blocking move or facial expression, you can turn an offensive moment into a feminist one.”
Rosalind and Celia escape to the woods in disguise, and there the adventure begins. The show had an interesting blend of realism, due to its outdoor setting—a realistic backdrop for the Forest of Arden, and farce due to the comical and exaggerated hijinks.
The expressions and gestures of the characters, especially Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone, heightened the highly enjoyable clash of disbelief and reality.
As the show continued and the sun set on the audience seated on an assortment of beach chairs and blankets, the lights on the makeshift stage brightened. “It’s Shakespeare in the park in the truest sense,” said Lawrence. “The performance is outside in a grassy, tree-filled courtyard, complementing the forested setting of the show’s action. As well as the natural atmosphere, the show will also feature detailed and authentic early 20th century Edwardian costumes.”
The show’s costumes added another complex layer to the show, transporting audiences to a time period that contrasted with the Shakespearean language. Somehow, though, all the contradictions made the overall experience all the more amusing. Moreover, the contradictions highlighted the fact that no matter how the show is presented, when pared down to the minimum, As You Like It pokes fun at the conventions of love, gender, and family.
“I always find it really hard to translate my character from Elizabethan era to modern times,” added Ecker, “but in As You Like It, I thought the characters worked really well in Edwardian England, and I think most people were able to move their characters easily into this world.”
After intermission, yet another element of the show’s success appeared: a herd of goats. “Also goats. We have goats,” said Lawrence of the show’s appeal.
The woman that takes in Rosalind and Celia in the forest shepherds a bevy of goats that the cast held, paraded around, and sat with in their laps. Whenever the goats were onstage, the audience cried and squealed in delight, especially when one of the goats started nuzzling Celia. The goats stole the show in their scenes, and the infatuated audience had a chance to have a one-on-one moment with them during the petting zoo at the end.
This performance of As You Like It was the 34th annual Shakespeare co-production between North and South and gave both cast and audience members in high school a taste of the other school and its acting program.
“I think there might typically be some vague sense of derision when it comes to one program talking about the other,” said Lass, who has been acting in this Shakespeare program for four years. “But being in a show where you’re truly immersed in the other program’s culture really gives you a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are, and it gives you new ideas of things you can bring back to your own program.”
Thornley said she, too, thought combining the schools made the show a unique experience. “Since everybody is working together for the first time, it meshes really well. This is also my fourth year doing it so by now I know a lot of the South people and how they like to run rehearsals.”
She added, “I’ve learned a lot from working with a group who does things a little differently.”
The show ended with a the cast dancing in a circle. Each couple respectively took their place in the center of the circle for a few seconds, showcasing their love. Finally, before the epilogue, the cast returned to the two lines from which they had begun, creating a measure of satisfying symmetry.
Lass said she was excited to present a Shakespeare production that was “entertaining while also being rejuvenating and sweet and just a solid 90 minutes of good fun.”
As You Like It was enchanting, and its feminist undertones and relatable trials in love created a deeply pleasurable and completely unique show that demonstrated the prodigious talent of actors at both North and South.