‘As You Like It’ closes fall season

Tania Jachens

Poet Robert Graves once astutely said, “The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.”

For proof, look no further than one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most timeless comedies, “As You Like It.”

After escaping strict courtly society, the story takes place in a fantastical and liberating forest where, once you enter, you might not leave as the same person you were.

The thoroughly varied characters, whether there by choice, punishment or fate, allow their stories of love, loyalty, malice and melancholy to intertwine. Through their adventures in the woods, they try to answer the eternal question: “How is life best lived?”

After being banished by her usurping uncle, Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most powerful female protagonists, flees to the forest with her cousin, Celia, and the court’s fool, Touchstone. In order to avoid detection, Rosalind and Celia pretend to be siblings with Rosalind disguised as a boy. Similarly, Orlando escapes his murderous older brother, Oliver, by also seeking shelter in the woods.

Due to a previous meeting, Orlando has fallen in love with Rosalind and expresses his feelings by carving love poetry into the trees of the forest.

After finding his message, Rosalind, in her male disguise, meets Orlando and promises to cure him of his love-sickness by role-playing as his lady. Can Rosalind keep up her disguise in the presence of her beloved or will her plan to test his love fall through?

In addition to this conundrum, shepherd Silvius is madly in love with shepherdess Phoebe, who falls for the disguised Rosalind, while Touchstone pursues the wanton Audrey. In the end, will love conquer all or will some characters leave the forest with broken hearts?

Vasey Theatre, part of Villanova’s graduate theater department, can always be expected to put on a great show, and “As You Like It” is no exception.

Unlike their previous production, the bleak and stark “Zoo Story,” this show (once you get the characters straight) is simultaneously heartfelt, amusing and thought-provoking.

Unlike the idea that love is a tormenting disease best cured quickly, “As You Like It” revels in breaking this courtly love tradition by portraying love as the ultimate way to fulfillment and bliss, while mocking those who take it too seriously.

Through all the transformations characters experience in the woods, the story proves that not only can people change, but they can change for the better.

Because of class tensions and distinctions between the educated and uneducated, the play wisely explains that different ideas of sophistication between city and country living are preconceived notions and would not exist or matter without the other. However, it is the enduring battle between the sexes that makes “As You Like It’s” sharp wit and rhetoric even more entertaining.

With so many characters and strong performances, it is difficult to fully describe the acting aspect of this show.

Jessica Bedford’s depiction of Rosalind is particularly riveting through her unique interpretation of a woman portraying a man; while her wooer Orlando, played by Tim Rinehart, is equally compelling as a man unsure of how to react to her.

Rosalind’s loyal cousin Celia, played by Kathryn Lyles (most notably seen as Sally Bowles in Vasey’s production of “Cabaret”) plays an excellent foil to Rosalind’s attempts at being impassive and masculine.

As another character unsure of her emotions, sophomore Brooke Bettis’s portrayal of the fickle shepherdess Phoebe is endearing, while her knee-jerk reactions and attractions are relevant for any college student.

Because of its unique space, it is always interesting to see what kind of set Vasey Theatre will build.

Since the show begins in a Duke’s court, there are several sheer curtains hanging from the ceiling, which intermittently get torn down by the actors as the story transitions into the forest setting. Tall black poles with avant-garde branches serve as the trees of the forest and prove to be a unique medium for the characters to interact with, between and against.

Orlando’s love poetry for Rosalind is creatively rendered as literal strings of words and entire lines from the play, hung between the pole-like trees between which the action of the play continues.

The costumes are also noteworthy, beginning with a palette of gray and black stodgy costumes for court and evolving towards more vibrant colors and styles once in the woods.

Overall, no aspect of “As You Like It” is overlooked, which adds up to a very enjoyable and thorough production.

With sympathetic characters and timeless issues, Shakespeare makes us reevaluate what we do to find happiness and contentment in our lives. Yet at the end of the day, no matter what happens, a wise character reminds us, “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” “As You Like It” is playing at Villanova’s Vasey Theatre now until Sunday, Nov. 22.