‘As You Like It’ Reinvented: a Dazzling Community Epic
The Public Works Seattle production, comprised almost entirely of community members not accustomed to the mainstage, reimagines what theatre can be. It runs only through this weekend. And it’s a must-see.
All the world’s a stage …
If you had no role to play, then who would you be?
All the world might be a stage, but typically it doesn’t work the other way around. Just about the only actors on stage — particularly one as large as Seattle Repertory Theatre’s main stage — are those who have trained for years to be there. And they’ve only gotten there after auditioning and landing the right to be there.
Public Works flips the script. It sends theatre out into the community and tells people they do have the right to be there. And those willing to commit the hours over months of preparation — and to be brave enough to step out onto a stage that big, with audiences looking on and their cast mates counting on them — earn the right to be on the big stage this weekend.
Every one of them looks like they belong there.
The show is a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a tale of divisions and love that (spoiler alert) turns out much better than the others. Five Equity actors play key roles: Eric Ankrim (Touchstone), Keiko Green (Jaques), Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako (Rosalind), Christian Quinto (Orlando), and Shaunyce Omar (Duke Senior). They’re wonderfully cast; not the least of which, because Quinto’s center-stage zest for life is rejuvenating; and Omar’s make-you-sob vocals soar.
And while the professionals provide the framework, it’s the scores of others who really make it pop. From kids to seniors, everyone has a place in the tranquil land of Arden, a veritable Eden awash in full-on ’60s technicolor. Veterans and others serve in Duke Ferdinand’s court, marching around the full auditorium with great pomp. A battle between a snake and a lion shows off a dramatic handmade creation and the thrill of a lion dance. Teams of drummers provide the frenetic soundtrack at key points. Lucha Libre wrestlers rumble on stage, their moves beamed onto the backdrop, while the audience enthusiastically joins in the countdowns.
At virtually every scene, the audience claps and hollers. It’s a contagious energy, an unusual enthusiasm. Call it the 12th Man of theatre. And it’s well deserved.
Midway through, it occurred to me that I could watch this show every week and still delight in it. And I thought about why that was. The answer, unprompted, was the equity, the imagination, and the joy so apparent in this work. The very three things that Angie Kamel, Public Works program director, told us all to remember, before the show began.
The three — equity, imagination, joy — are so evident in the show that, consciously or not, the viewer can’t help but remember them. It’s hard to think of a better salve for these harried and harrowing times.
As You Like It is a musical adaptation by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery, with music and lyrics by Shaina Taub, directed by Timothy McCuen Piggee; music directed by R.J. Tancioco and choreographed by Kathryn Van Meter. A full list of actors and other artists can be found here.
For coverage of the program and rehearsals, see feature by Dusty Somers in the Seattle Times here.
Production photos will be added when available.
The Public Works Seattle production of As You Like It runs through 9/8 at Seattle Repertory Theatre at Seattle Center/Lower Queen Anne. Tickets are free to all, available here; and are available at the door if sold out online. Donations to the Public Works program are accepted online and in the show lobby. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; there is one single-stall, gender-neutral restroom that is a maze to locate. (To find it: after the ticket scanner, take a right, go in the door marked emergency exit, then the door marked staff only — no kidding. You might need to ask the house manager.) Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible, and assisted hearing devices are available; see physical accessibility info here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.