'As You Like It,' Woodstock style

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By Doug Deuchler

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It's a thrill to witness high school students performing the works of William Shakespeare. There is currently a fun production of the crowd-pleaser As You Like It playing at the Little Theater of Oak Park and River Forest High School that is entertaining and energetic. The show is full of standout performances. The large cast provides a lighthearted, very likable romantic comedy evening.

I know there are purists who dislike Shakespeare plays done in any period other than the Elizabethan of its origin. But director Linda Burns has chosen to move her well-staged production from the Renaissance to the era of 50 years ago — 1969 is the exact setting, a time when free spirits and rebellion were a significant aspect of the youth culture. 

"I wanted to find a way to help high school students connect to the story and thought that setting [the play] in a more recent period would help them do that," Burns told me. "I also saw the connection of characters escaping to nature and the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s. Once I made that connection and realized this year is the 50th anniversary of the rock festival Woodstock, all the characters fell into place."

Patt Cheney, who designed the make-up and hair styles, and Jeffrey Kelly, who created the costumes, provide a delightful look back at the hippie era, a time of swirling colors, vests and smocks, love beads, bell-bottoms, "Jesus sandals" and mini-skirts.

Duke Frederick (Archer Ackerman) has banished his brother Duke Senior (Terria O'Neal) because he wants to take over. Duke Senior and his gang of friends and followers find safe haven in the Forest of Arden. It's a sort of magical place full of love, joy and music.

In the meantime, greedy Duke Frederick allows his niece Rosalind (Kira Imowitz) to live in the palace because she is close with Duke Frederick's daughter Celia (Marissa Kuriakos). When Duke Frederick turns sour on Rosalind and evicts her, in defiance loyal Celia, her cousin, leaves as well. Both women escape to the Forest of Arden. For protection, Rosalind dresses as a man she calls Ganymede. Celia stays dressed as a young woman.

Celia and Rosalind are accompanied during their escapades by a lively, quick-witted court fool named Touchstone, played to perfection by Sam Theis. Touchstone eventually marries a dancing country girl named Audrey (Elisa Perrone).

Rosalind and Celia see Orlando (Declan Collins) fight a guy named Charles (Joe Frantzen) in a contest. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, who has a mean older brother, Oliver (Leo Gonzalez). Orlando is forced to flee after being persecuted by his sibling.

Rosalind and Orlando are fated to meet, fall in love at first sight, be separated, and then joined again. They find themselves pursuing love in a world that seems to have gone a insane.

Some immortal Shakespearean poetry occurs in this play. As Jaques, Margaret Kennedy delivers the famous "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players" speech.

Imowitz's lovely and determined Rosalind is the show's heart and focal point.

Music plays a big part and there are several interludes with a group of hippies in the Forest of Arden who present hootenanny style songfests accompanied by a guitar, ukulele, and tambourine. 

Christopher Scholtens is the technical director, Eva Oney is the stage manager, and Jack Smith is the master carpenter.

As You Like It is over 400 years old. Yet its web of love and deception, its musical interludes, and its lively cast keep the pace of the show moving right along while providing the audience with lots of laughs.

There are two additional performances of As You Like It this weekend in the Little Theater, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23, 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors. OPRF is located at 201 N. Scoville, Oak Park. Tickets: oprfhs.ticketleap.com/as-you-like-it, or at the door.

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