Manhattan Arts Center’s production of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” stays true to the story while making some adjustments, so it is easier for modern audiences to understand.
“I was really interested in making it as accessible as possible,” director Trevor Comstock said. “There’s nothing worse than, ‘It looks fun but I didn’t understand.’”
The production turns into a play within a play, so the actors can speak more directly to the audience.
“There’s breaking the fourth wall and talking to each other as actors to help explain a bit more,” said Alicia Willard, who plays Rosalind.
In “As You Like It,” Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke, is banished herself and runs off into the forest with her cousin, Celia. Early in their travels, Rosalind meets and falls in love with Orlando. Soon the two young maids decide to disguise themselves for protection.
“Of course maids are too beautiful to wander off into the forest without being robbed, so they decide to disguise themselves,” Willard said.
Celia chooses the disguise of a poor woman, and Rosalind disguises herself as a young man. They continue on their adventures with a court jester named Touchstone. The group eventually meets up again with Orlando and his servant, Adam.
“As a man, she decides to test his love,” Comstock said.
Rosalind, still dressed as a man, pretends to be herself to counsel Orlando on the relationship. Following a series of misadventures, love triangles, the show culminates in four different couples marrying.
“They fall in love in different ways, but you still see the same love stories as romantic comedies,” Willard said.
Willard said the language of Shakespeare was the most difficult part for her because it comes less naturally than how we speak today and that it took her longer to learn her lines. Comstock knew the language could be a barrier and wanted to compensate for it. He had previously been in a production of the show and said at the time he didn’t really understand the story.
“It’s almost like a foreign language,” he said.
There are subtitles projected on the wall behind the actors so the audience can read along. They also added interludes between and during scenes where the actors talk to each other in modern language as a way to help explain who characters are, their relationships or plot points.
Willard said the silliness of one of Shakespeare’s “most farcical” comedies still comes through. The audience can identify with the love story despite the absurdity of the characters, she said.
“They’re relatable but also fantastic because you would never meet this person,” she said.
‘AS YOU LIKE IT’
The Manhattan Arts Center’s production of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” will be performed Saturday and Sunday and Feb. 26-28. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at manhattanarts.org and by phone at 785-537-4420. There will also be a video on demand link available for streaming Feb. 23-March 6.