Something of a black sheep among the grand Shakespearean stable (though not nearly as contentious as the uber-violent “Titus Andronicus”), “As You Like It,” despite some critical hair-splitting, has remained intensely popular with audiences for about 450 years.
Ivy League side-eye aside, the comedy contains some of the Bard’s most famous speeches (including the “All the world’s a stage” and “too much of a good thing” rants) and has been adapted dozens of times in multiple mediums, the latest of which comes, courtesy of Bainbridge Performing Arts, to the back pasture at Bloedel Reserve as the seventh annual Summertime Shakespeare production on Thursday, July 11.
Simply put, the play centers on heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin Celia, seeking safety and eventually finding love in the Forest of Arden.
Director and BPA resident Bard expert Kristi Ann Jacobson (who has been involved in the Bloedel-based productions from the beginning in one form or another) said the play is both a surprisingly timely outlier among, and perfect example of, William Shakespeare’s works.
“It’s not done very often, at least up here,” she said. “It’s done everywhere else.”
In terms of uniqueness, the play has more to offer than meets the eye — much like some of its players.
“Every character loves every other character in a specific way, even if they love to hate them,” the director said. “I’m surprised to find more than just the main love story in the play. You’ve got love between family members, we’ve added a lost love, a kind of unrequited love to it. We have the more physical type of love, the lust. That was fun to explore.”
And, in terms of Shakespeare staples, the usual suspects are well represented, too.
“We’ve got crossdressing, of course,” Jacobson said. “You’ve got to have that in there, because really that’s the main way Shakespeare uses for his women to be more liberated and to actually speak their minds, because when they’re in their women’s roles, it was frowned upon for women to have opinions and speak out loud.”
But that’s not all, folks.
“You’ve got mistaken identities, which is another fun one,” the director said. “You’ve got the evil baddies who are just out to destroy everybody’s lives for their own profit.”
And, of course, “naughty jokes galore!”
“Different plays explore different naughty jokes, usually based on different parts of the anatomy,” Jacobson said.
Ultimately though, the part of human anatomy “As You Like It” is most focused on is decidedly above the waistline.
“It’s a play about love,” Jacobson said. “It explores the difference between when you are within society and societal norms, which is the court, or if you are let free in the forest and you’re not bound by those restrictions anymore.
“It’s kind of an exploration of what life is like when you have a little bit of freedom.”
In an age when so many of the old masters are getting a frank, refreshed review, the Bard remains beloved. Even cancel culture seems to have no bones to pick with Avon’s favorite son, and that, Jacobson said, is telling.
“It is the adaptability of the stories,” she said. “A lot of the stories, I’d say most of the stories, are still relevant today.
“It’s his understanding of human nature, how humans are,” she added. “Because, as humans, we haven’t really evolved much in how we treat each other and how we feel about ourselves, it’s all still there. So you can go and see the play and go, ‘Oh, I know someone just like that!’ Or, ‘Oh, I’ve been in that situation before!’ “
“As You Like It” comes to the back pasture at Bloedel Reserve (7571 NE Dolphin Drive) on July 11-14, July 18-July 21, July 24-26 and July 28, plus a special pay-what-you-can preview on Wednesday, July 10. All performances begin at 7 p.m.
Clocking in at about two hours long, the show has one intermission.
Patrons are advised to bring low lawn chairs as there is limited blanket seating available. Staff members will assist patrons upon their arrival in the meadow. Seating on blankets will be in front and seating in elevated chairs will be in rear.
Space is limited, and seating is first come first served.
Attendees should note that the audience area is a grassy region and that there is no paved access to the meadow. Be ready for a beautiful five-minute walk between the parking area and meadow. Gates open at 6 p.m. Patrons may enter the grounds earlier by paying a reduced same-day-only rate of $5, valid after 4:30 p.m.
Picnics and set up for picnics will be allowed in the meadow after 6 p.m. Beer and wine will neither be sold nor permitted at this year’s event per regulations under the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board.
Tickets, $29 each ($24 for seniors, students, teachers and military) are available now, along with additional information, at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org.