BELFAST — One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, will open the Belfast Maskers 33rd season on Thursday, March 12 (Preview Night).
Directing the production is Erik Perkins, a veteran of dozens of shows with the Maskers and other area theater companies.
Perkins has chosen to set the production in the late 1960s.
“I think the semi-modern setting helps a contemporary audience relate to the original material in new ways, with new perspective and insight,” said Perkins, in a news release.
He points out that it’s not at all uncommon to set productions of Shakespeare’s plays in time periods completely unrelated to the original, and As You Like It is no exception – in 2005, Kenneth Branagh moved the play to a colony in 19th -century Japan for his film.
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy, and Perkins explains that “some of that genre’s motifs–happy marriages, presenting the country as an idyllic retreat, connecting with nature, living the simple life–are tailor-made to the 1960s lifestyle when people tuned in, turned on, dropped out, and returned to the land.” He also says that he wanted to set the play in a time when the feminism movement was a powerful force in the U.S. in order to highlight the fact that Rosalind–the lead character–is the largest female role Shakespeare wrote and, arguably, the one with the most agency.
Although Shakespeare obviously was not writing about Second Wave Feminism and The Sexual Revolution, the topics do have some easy parallels in the script, according to Perkins. For this production, he has re-cast Duke Frederick, the Usurper, as a woman (played by Danielle Bannister) and said that he’s looking forward to seeing how that dynamic develops in the rehearsal process.
“With the exception of changing a few pronouns to accommodate that change, Perkins is remaining true to Shakespeare’s original language, although he has made some fairly sizable cuts to the script to help the show move along at a fun and fast pace,” said Maskers.
Meg Nickerson, the Maskers’ artistic director, is especially pleased that the season opener is a Shakespearean play. His works were a hallmark of the Maskers’ early years and she believes it’s important to reconnect with the group’s history as they forge a new future in their new theater, according to the release.
“The Maskers have a long, rich history in our community that I’ve been privileged to be a part of since 1991,” she said. “It’s very exciting to see old and new Maskers working together to produce this classic play with a fresh, new approach.”
Leading the cast as Rosalind is Autumn Stupca, a recent UNE graduate. Stupca is likely familiar to theatergoers from her previous work in Belfast Area High School productions, as well as from plays she’s performed in with local companies during school breaks.
Other leads include the dashing Orlando (Dakota Wing), Rosalind’s cousin Celia (Erin Hayes), and one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, the jester Touchstone (Tyler Johnstone).
The bulk of the comedy takes place in the Forest of Arden, where the main characters are surrounded by a host of memorable and witty characters performed by both new and veteran Maskers.
As You Like It contains many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches: “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players (spoken by the melancholy Jacques, portrayed by Tom Crutcher); “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak” (Rosalind); “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (Touchstone); and “Oh, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes” (Orlando).
Music is an integral part of the play, serving as a means to character development. Singing two of the most famous songs, Under the Greenwood Tree and Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind will be Phoebe Norman in the role of Amiens. Other singers include Patricia Saucier and Melora Norman, while Mike Nickerson will provide musical accompaniment.
As You Like It will be performed on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m.; and on Sundays at 2 p.m.; beginning on March 12 with a special Preview Night (half-price tickets).
Performances run through March 22 at the Basil Burwell Community Theater, 17 Court Street, in downtown Belfast. Ample free parking surrounds the theater.
Tickets ($15 general admission; $10 for 12 and under) will be available at Left Bank Books (109 Church St., Belfast), at the door and, coming soon, online at www.belfastmaskers.com