It’s been 400 years since Shakespeare walked the earth and his words are still undeniably relevant. Take the famous speech from “As You Like It”: “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.” There you have it—life explained. Director Wendy Goldberg’s production, which opened at Center Stage’s temporary Towson home Jan. 15, pushes the play further into the now. Featuring an all-female cast, this production is pumped full of modern influences: most notably fashion, the efforts of costume designer Anne Kennedy. The first few scenes of this folksy love story could be mistaken for a Balmain runway.
We start in the cold (and sleekly outfitted) Court of Duke Frederick (played by Celeste Den), where everyone is dressed in posh black garments—like a black high-low feathered gown. iPhones and iPads deliver harrowing messages. There’s heavy pulsating music and the contemporary dance moves to go along with it. After the Duke banishes Orlando (played by Sofia Jean Gomez), his own niece Rosalind (played by Julia Coffey) and daughter Celia (played by Mattie Hawkinson), the aforementioned haute couture is suddenly whisked away. What replaces this aesthetic somehow manages to be even more beautiful.The Forest of Arden, where Orlando, Rosalind, Celia and each of their sidekicks amusingly find themselves, is groovy and filled with whimsical characters. The song and dance in Arden, led by Sir Oliver Martext (played by Tracey Farrar), is a funk-folk fusion. The forest is bright and the costumes look like a Free People lookbook. It’s all very Woodstock.
Watching Rosalind disguised as Ganymede con Orlando into wooing her, amid the antics of the three other budding romances, this play could almost be accused of being twee. But Goldberg’s decision to cast this production entirely with women adds complexity. Strikingly, the entire cast shares the final speech, written solely for Rosalind. A curious choice. The first line of the speech—“It is not the fashion to see the lady in the epilogue”—in the absence of male actors, winks at the crowd and emphasizes the power of the directorial decision.
From the superb set design by Arnulfo Maldonado to the vivacious cast, this production is engaging and immersive. It’s clear through the energy of the polished cast that they’re having fun on that stage. By the way, the vibe is consistently romantic. How perfect that this closes on Valentine’s Day.
This production of “As You Like It” runs through Feb. 14 at Towson.