The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0881 Friday, 21 April 2000.
Date: Thursday, 20 Apr 2000 15:28:35 -0400
Subject: DC - As You Like It; Shakespeare Big Willie Style.
The Washington Shakespeare Company and the African Continuum Theater
Company are staging what is being advertised as a Hip Hop version of As
You Like It. It's an interesting, but uneven production whose character
is derived, not so much from its hippo flavors, but primarily from the
choice to set to play in New York's Central Park and the replacement of
the characters with contemporary stereotypes.
Adam is played as an older black matronly sort, which works out nicely;
Charles is a WWF - "Smackdown" style of professional wrestler, which is
very funny; and Duke Frederick is a minister, which is confusing, but
that sort's itself out once we get to Arden and the production finally
gets going. In Arden/Central Park Duke Senior is portrayed in contrast
to his brother as a blind street reverend. There is a drunk man whose
pants fall constantly, who is Reverend Oliver and a gay man who speaks
to the stuffed sheep he keeps in his shopping cart as Corin. Jacques
seems to be a philosophy-major drop out, dressed in black, speaking in
an unidentifiable accent and carrying a skull in a bag.
Ken Yatta Rogers and Kamilah Forbes as Orlando and Rosalind are the
strength of the cast; they are playful, funny and keep a focused center
in this wildly diverging production. Michael Glenn plays Touchstone as
a white wanna be rapper (think of The Offspring's "Pretty Fly for a
White Guy). With baggy pants and a rapper's swagger, I couldn't figure
out if his lack of street credibility was by intent or happenstance.
Odder still, Touchstone never seems to figure out that Audrey is a
transvestite. But in all honesty, his explanation of the seven lies was
the most coherent I have heard from the stage.
These "street people" of the forest speak in a variety of curious
dialects; Duke Senior delivers his longer speeches with the bluster of a
southern Baptist preacher, while Corin delivers at least one long speech
as a the blurred rant of a street person. And while these are
interesting, the words tend to get lost in the delivery. This is also
true for the "raps."
Raps are going to be at the center of a hippo translation, and in this
production there are a few. On a few occasions, characters give a
little extra rhythm to a few couplets; Orlando's tree poetry and
Rosalind's epilogue also both work well as raps. But the production
also introduces three of the Sonnets as specific rap numbers (18, 130,
and 154) which fail pretty miserably. I think that rhymes in
contemporary rap are too fast, thick and furious, making Shakespeare's
ABABCDCD stylings sound weak in comparison. It's just not his genre.
I thought I had heard someone had tried something similar (maybe a
version of Comedy in New York?) Can anyone report?