AU Rude Mechanicals presents “As You Like It”
Director Jack Voelker takes on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” with an LGBTQ twist.
AU Rude Mechanicals presented an LGBTQ adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play “As You Like It” Nov. 19-Nov. 21 in Kreeger Auditorium. The adaptation successfully integrated LGBTQ characters into this traditional Shakespearean piece and delivered witty commentary on the issues facing LGBTQ youth. The fresh take combined with the excellent acting made this adaptation of “As You Like It” enjoyable and poignant.
Right off the bat, the cast introduced the audience to fresh interpretations of beloved Shakespearean characters – freshman Sam Megill played a transgender Orlando, and freshman Kali Jennings acted as his genderqueer lover Rosalind.
“The universal themes of finding love and finding yourself can be easily applied to a lot of different narratives,” Jennings said. “The fact that something as beloved and familiar as Shakespeare has the ability to transform to fit these narratives is a great starting point to having these discussions in real life.”
Director Jack Voelker, a senior in the Kogod School of Business, had the idea for this piece one year ago and proposed his adaptation to the Rude Mechanicals in June. He said he became inspired to write this adaptation because of his frustration at the lack of queer representation in most plays, movies and stories and that he felt that in the rare instances when queer folk do appear in the media, they’re portrayed as a joke or a sob story.
“I also love Shakespeare so much, and it’s so easy to make it queer and new and interesting and more colorful, but a great deal of people don’t bother to do anything new with it,” Voelker said.
He said that he worked on the piece nonstop for about ten weeks and spent hours editing the script. The rehearsal process itself was six weeks long, according to Voekler.
“I believe that every mainstream storytelling outlet in our society right now is severely lacking in women, people of color, gay people, trans people, disabled people and any number of marginalized identities who don’t get to see their stories on a daily basis,” Voelker said.
Nov. 20 is widely recognized as the Transgender Day of Remembrance, so before the performance began the audience observed a moment of silence.
The plot adaptation of the play remained fairly faithful to Shakespeare’s work. “As You Like It” follows the journey of Rosalind (Jennings), the daughter of Simon Duke, who was usurped and sent into exile by his younger brother Frederick Duke. Both Simon Duke and Frederick Duke are played by Perry Scalfano, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs. Frederick allows Rosalind to remain in the kingdom because she is best friends with his daughter Celia, played by Danielle Gallo, a freshman in the School of Communication.
Gallo’s energetic and bubbly portrayal of Celia diverges from how Shakespeare portrays Celia in his original play, but her performance works well and contributes to making the friendship between her and Rosalind seem more authentic.
Within the first twenty minutes of the play, Rosalind falls in love with Orlando (Megill). Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys and brother to Oliver, played by Nate Caspari, with whom he has an intense sibling rivalry. Rosalind upsets Frederick and he exiles her, but she runs away with Celia and Touchstone, the court jester, played by Alex Damman. They find themselves at Arden where they meet a host of eccentric characters.
Freshman College of Arts and Sciences student Damman’s performance as Touchstone, a gay character, stole the show. Damman was loud and rambunctious and wiggled around the stage, playing the part of a court jester well. His role contrasted with the cynical and contemplative gender non-binary Jaques, played by Julia Jenal, a freshman in the School of International Service, and made the budding romantic relationship between the two of them all the more interesting.
In Shakespeare’s original play, shepherds live out their simple pastoral lives in the Forest of Arden. But in this modern adaptation, Voelker chose to change Arden from a forest to an LGBTQ homeless shelter.
“It seemed fun to do this show in a rendition that shines a spotlight on a rather misunderstood issue,” Caspari said. “Nobody has ever seen ‘As You Like It’ quite like this before.”
Voelker writes in his ‘Note from the Director’ that he wants audiences to understand that while the show is fictional, it’s important to recognize that the issue of queer homelessness is not. The proceeds from the show benefited the Ali Forney Center, whose mission is to protect LGBTQ youth from the harms of homelessness.
“Not only is it important for marginalized people to see their stories, but for non-marginalized people to see these stories too,” Voelker said. “I want the audience to walk away from this show feeling warm and happy and like they understand more about queer people and our unique struggles and triumphs.”