Where can audiences see the World Wrestling Federation on stage in a Shakespeare comedy? And where can young lovers be serenaded by frogs as dusk settles over the park? The answer is Lower City Park in Iowa City, where Riverside Theatre presents a very modern interpretation of Shakespeare's As You Like It. Directed with wit and high energy by Mark Hunter, the comedy about love and family and all the complications one can imagine is distinguished by a rollicking soundtrack, youthful, exuberant performers, and hip-hop choreography.
The first act is set in the militaristic kingdom of Duke Frederick, with its rigid corporate logo and the infallible will of the duke. Most of the rest of the play is set in the bucolic, beautiful, and bountiful Forest of Arden.
One of the central conflicts involves Duke Frederick, who has usurped the throne from his kind, generous, and fun-loving older brother, Duke Senior. (Both dukes are played by Ron Clark.) There's also the sibling rivalry between Orlando (played robustly by Charles Picard) and his older brother Oliver (Tom Cilek), as well as the frictions between city life and country life, the ideal and the real, and the practical and the romantic. The love interests are provided by Duke Frederick's daughter Celia (Sandra DeLuca) and Duke Senior's daughter Rosalind (Wendi Weber). Imagine disguises, mistaken identity, a misguided love triangle, and the happily-ever-after ending of a quadruple wedding, and just a few of the plot twists are revealed.
Weber's Rosalind dons the garb of a boy to escape Duke Frederick's court and travel safely with Celia, who disguises herself as a serving girl. She taunts Orlando, who has fallen in love with her at Duke Frederick's court but doesn't recognize her in disguise ... and the real fun begins. Weber's Rosalind is a very modern woman, thoroughly convincing as both man and woman. She is emancipated in dress and speech in the Forest of Arden.
Court jester Touchstone, played with a lightning-quick delivery, pratfalls, and innuendo by Martin Yurek, steals the action more than once. He gets his girl, too, before the final scene.
The music utilized is both recorded and performed live by the actors, and includes the melodies of Cat Stevens, The Dandy Warhols, Joni Mitchell, the Dixie Cups, and David Bowie, to name a few. Ron Claand's choreography is so riveting that the audience sat mesmerized for a five-minute curtain call of dancing and singing.
The costuming and set designs use minimalism to set a corporate theme for Act One and a leafy forest in subsequent acts. Props, such as a mountaineer's backpack, are used to great comic effect, especially by the servant Anna, who follows Orlando nearly everywhere.
This production of As You Like It focuses on the entire ensemble instead of singling out one actor or actress as the leading character. The production is as visually interesting as the language is beautiful. Thanks to the actors' crisp enunciation and excellent projection, all of the lines are easily heard and understood, in spite of the very quick tempo of the direction.
As You Like It continues its run through June 24th in Lower City Park off Dubuque Street in Iowa City. For information or tickets, call (319)338-7672.