PASTORALIA Monmouth’s James Noel Hoban gives an exuberant turn as Amiens, a lord attending Duke Senior in the Forest of Arden
When three theater companies, all within a one-hour drive of Portland, choose to present the same Shakespeare play on overlapping dates, you have to wonder what about that particular show resonates with this particular moment. In the case of As You Like It, being presented now by the Bath Shakespeare Festival (through August 2), Theater at Monmouth (through August 23), and Fenix Theatre Company in Portland (through August 9), there are several possibilities.
Is it the idea of transformation that appeals to today’s audiences, who are still holding out hope that miserly fat cats or uptight corporate types can change for the better? Or perhaps it’s the play’s exploration of gender-fluidity and upheaval of traditional norms that taps into growing acceptance for LGBTQ rights. Many people will appreciate how the comedy skewers traditional rom-com tropes and delivers a message of girl power. And for summer theatergoers, all bronzed from a day in the sun, it’s not hard to imagine that the elevation of “country life” over “city life”—of simplicity, tolerance, and happiness over cutthroat politics and practiced courtship rituals—strikes a chord.
When we meet young Orlando at the top of the show, he is frustrated, having been kept in poverty by his brother Oliver since the death of their father, Sir Rowland deBoys. From the outset, Orlando is a sympathetic hero, at turns strident (as portrayed in Monmouth, by Michael Dix Thomas), hapless (in the hands of PJ Tighe in Bath), and passive-aggressive (Dave Register, in Deering Oaks).
Meanwhile, Duke Frederick has usurped his brother, Duke Senior, from power (in all three productions, the Dukes are played by the same actor, highlighting the dichotomy of good and evil). Rosalind, the exiled Duke’s daughter, has stayed at court on account of her close relationship with her cousin (Frederick’s daughter), Celia. The young women share an uncommonly close bond, especially evident in the Monmouth production, where Erica Murphy (Rosalind) and Lindsay Tornquist (Celia) quickly establish a warm, girlish sisterhood.
Orlando decides to wrestle for his fortune at Frederick’s court, which is where he meets and falls in love with Rosalind. The companies approach the pivotal wrestling scene with varying degrees of earnest physicality and cartoonish glee—Fenix’s Rob Cameron, as Orlando’s opponent Charles the wrestler, gets the crowd going with greasy bravado and a Lucha Libre mask.
FENIX IN FLIGHT As You Like It’s Touchstone and Celia watch a pivotal moment in Fenix Theater Company’s production in Deering Oaks Park
Almost immediately, however, the lovers are separated; Orlando must run away to escape the machinations of his brother. But they’ll not be apart for long. When the ever-capricious Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind to the Forest of Arden, Celia insists on accompanying her along with Touchstone, the court fool. The girls decide to disguise themselves for safety: Celia as the shepherdess “Aliena” and Rosalind as the boy “Ganymede.” And such is how Rosalind and Orlando meet again in the woods, where “Ganymede” helpfully offers to school Orlando in the ways of wooing. All this is complicated, of course, by the affairs of others in the countryside, including love-struck farm boy Silvius and stuck-up farm girl Phoebe, whose affections end up falling unsolicited on “Ganymede.”