February 9 – 13 the WTAMU Dept of Theatre and Dance staged the Shakespearean classic As You Like It in the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre. Think a comedy/romance with a Game of Thrones vibe, sans dragons of course, where true love wins out and bad is banished. Such a happy ending is as we all would like it, whether now or in the early seventeenth century.
The play, though written over four hundred years ago, has, with its questioning of gender roles and behaviors, a particular modern resonance and relevance. In the context of the quest for true love and the desire for power, constants in human nature, the play explores the fallacies of perception that can lead all of us down uncharted paths, whether into the fantasy glade of Arden and/or new possibilities for actualization.
A key to the perennial endurance of the bard’s work, besides the universal themes and issues, is its adaptability to time and space: witness Romeo and Juliet in 20th century L.A. or A Midsummer’s Night Dream in a 19th century Tuscan town with characters on bicycles. So what were the creative twists in this production that made it stand out as different?
Though the dialogue is set in stone, directors permit themselves wide latitude regarding musical interludes, whether vocal or instrumental, trying either to approximate the original or insert new compositions.
In the case of As You Like It, which is recognized as the most musical of Shakespeare’s plays, Director Echo Sunyata Sibley’s creative team went over the top, and their compositions stood out as high points in the production. Three examples are noted.
Zachary Todd composed four works for this production, with arrangements by the director and Raffaele Abbate. At one point, the hero Orlando sings in the manner of Elvis, eliciting audience laughs where there would usually be silence.
The hunting song, a stomp the yard chant performed by the entire cast, was almost a tribal in effect and created by the members circling and then doing a version of “We Will Rock You” as they responded to prompts thrown out by the director. Collaborative creativity at its finest.
Hymen’s Prayer, sung by the cast at the wedding was richly liturgical, almost Palestrina-like in its harmony. One would think they were hearing the University Chorale.
Sunyata-Sibley added a comic warm-up, a stock character from the Comedia Dell’Arte trope who represents Zanni, a foreigner in a strange land, interacting with other outsiders, the audience, new to the forest. Bella Walker’s improv antics held the attention of those seating for both the first and second acts, with a syllabic spew worthy of a Tolkien tongue.
The magic element of a forest nymph was expanded by the director into three characters, who both sang and danced, with terpsichorean moves worthy of the Mariinsky.
The characters delivered their lines with clarity and an adroit sense of timing, devoid of caricatured British accents. And the stage, had an aesthetic utility in its construction, serving equally as a palais royale and a sylvan hideout.
To see Shakespeare performed with such creativity did credit to the bard and was a privilege to see. But, incredible as it seems, enjoying quality theatre along with all the other fine arts is a regular feature of life here in Cowboy Country. That is As We Like It up here on the high plains.
Anticipating future performances that enhance our quality of life, we say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”