After her solo directing debut in 2018’s Death and the Maiden, it was clear that Cassie Greer was a superb choice as Associate Artistic Director at Bag & Baggage. Anyone harboring even the faintest lingering doubts should immediately buy tickets to see As You Like It or, Love in a Forest, Greer’s first independent foray into the world of B&B Shakespearian adaptations. The production is simply wonderful – witty, innovative, accessible, lighthearted yet full of heart.
As usual with B&B adaptations, the show has been streamlined (but not “dumbed down”) a bit, which allows the actors time to deliver the lines with clarity and deliberation, selectively emphasizing important points. This, combined with pacing that leaves room for plenty of physical comedy, ensures that even the most Shakespeare-phobic can understand and enjoy the story. To give added context, Greer provides detailed analytical director’s notes that discuss the evolution of the tale from 1350’s The Tale of Gamelyn through Charles Johnson’s 1723 adaptation, Love in a Forest. In a perfect universe, these notes would be required reading for all audience members before the opening bell – but even a quick glance at intermission provides useful background.
Briefly, As You Like It tells the story of cousins Rosalind and Celia, daughters of sibling Dukes Senior and Frederick. Frederick has usurped his brother’s throne and banished him to the Forest of Arden, while allowing Rosalind to stay in court as a companion to Celia. The noble Orlando, son of another of Frederick’s enemies, vanquishes court boxing champ Charles in a major upset victory, which makes Frederick furious. In the meantime, Rosalind and Orlando have fallen in love, which further angers the already irate Frederick. Orlando flees, Frederick banishes Rosalind, and ultimately both Celia and Rosalind flee to the forest (with Rosalind disguised as a man named Ganymede). The story continues from there, with lots of Shakespearean mistaken identities and the clever tricks that so often lead to The Bard’s women winning the day (at least in his comedies).
Bag & Baggage newcomer Amber Bogdewiecz delivers a feisty, thoroughly likeable Rosalind/Ganymede. Her weak-kneed initial infatuation gives way in the forest to a skeptical, directive trickster who is clearly having a lot of fun testing Orlando’s professed love. Orlando is played with equal skill by another newcomer, Israel Bloodgood. At first glance he is not terribly prepossessing – he is clearly the underdog in the boxing match, but he immediately telegraphs the pluck that allows him to defeat the favorite, and his transformation into a helplessly ardent suitor in the forest is absolute. Signe Larsen displays her pugilistic skill as Charles (and also serves as the show’s fight choreographer), but she really shines as the snobby shepherdess Phebe, whose obsession with Ganymede is classic Shakespearean humor. Music director/actor/vocalist Jared Mack (Le Beau/Amiens) leads the cast in a few nice bits of minstrelsy, lending his fine voice to an already strong production.
My favorite performance comes from Roxanne Stathos, a third actor making her Bag & Baggage debut. In the small role as the Marshall she absolutely rocks her skimpy attire, in particular the fishnet stockings, and she is appropriately decrepit as the ancient Adam. However, it is as the love-struck shepherd Silvius that Stathos uses her diminutive stature and wonderful voice to best effect – it would be worth it to see the show again just to watch her.
Bag & Baggage once again makes full use of the technological wonders available at The Vault, using projection of a lush forest to complement the cartoonish, bare bones trees on set. The changing signs projected on the wall set the stage for a moving and beautiful epilogue delivered by the entire cast at the end of the production – a compelling statement about current events that was unexpected, but clearly not unwelcome to the audience.
As You Like It or, Love in a Forest is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through July 29th, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees.