A Modern Take on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”

Artist impression of a scene from the performance. Picture Courtesy of Department of Theatre Arts

By Lawrence Nzuve and Katarina Delgado

William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It” which has been performing in Theatre One at The Staller Center, is an adaptation to a modern audience.The performance has been made possible by  Stony Brook University’s Department of Theatre Arts. It  has been running from April 7 and ends on 17.

“It’ll be quite noticeably different than other Shakespeare you’ve seen because you’ll notice some modern pop songs in the middle of it and some phones and text messages,” Liam Wallace, who plays Orlando, a love interest in the play, said.

The play, a five-act story, is the origin of known phrases like “all the world’s a stage” and “too much of a good thing.” It follows a young woman named Rosalind after her father, Duke Senior, is usurped by his brother. Director John Lutterbie and Shakespearean scholar Amy Cook added more modern twists to the 400-year-old play.

“The music isn’t accessible to student audiences so if we were to do some sort of renaissance music it wouldn’t do anything for them,” Director John Lutterbie said. “We’ve added what we call ‘karaoke’ tunes so we use contemporary songs that we have interspersed in the play in place of songs that Shakespeare had and a couple places where Shakespeare did not imagine them happening.”

Viva la Vida by Coldplay and Counting Stars by OneRepublic are a couple of these modern additions Lutterbie chose to include in his adaptation. In the original version of the play, a character writes poems and hangs them on the trees of the Forest of Arden where young Rosalind is in hiding.

“We decided, again to update this for contemporary audiences, to change the writing of poems on paper that were hung on trees to doing it as tweets,” Lutterbie said. “So we have a lot of gags, if you will, where people are referencing their phones for different things in a way that Shakespeare obviously wouldn’t have known about.”

Lutterbie said that the adaptations were made to make the play more accessible to its mostly student audience.

“I liked the way they modernized it in terms of attitude and clothes, like transplanting it basically into any setting. That was an interesting choice to just not leave it like what the original period was,” Natalie Christensen, a freshman at Stony Brook, said.

The play also includes a clip from a UFC fight, but most of Shakespeare’s original words were left unaltered except for a few changes to shorten it.

“The text is the same but the style of the play using that text is completely modern,” Christopher Johnson, who plays Oliver, said.

Shakespeare’s original blank verse with no rhyme, written in iambic pentameters are maintained.In poetry, an iamb is a  beat consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, or a short syllable followed by a long syllable, according to FreeDictionary.com.

The archaic wording of Shakespeare’s original text can be difficult to understand, “It’s almost like it’s in another language,” actor Liam Wallace, said.

“I hope people won’t be intimidated by the thought of the language,” Wallace said. “ If the actors know what they’re saying the language is actually very delightful and lively and funny.”