This is never truer than when Shakespeare’s work is tailored to fit the fads and fashions of a more familiar era. “As we do with all our shows, we like to update them with modern dress and a theme,” says Bird-on-a-Cliff’s David Aston-Reese. “This one is set in the ‘50s, with poodle skirts, hula hoops, beatniks and bongos.” It’s a different take on the play’s production, one of which the original playwright would undoubtedly approve. Elli Michaels elaborates, “Once we started going modern, we never looked back. We felt it’s more interesting for people to come, and now they say, ‘What are they doing this year?’ Also, doing the shows from 5 to 7 in the evening – it’s a little hot in those ballgowns!”
This production marks Bird-on-a-Cliff’s 16th Woodstock Shakespeare Festival held at the outdoor Elizabethan stage on the Comeau Property. Aston-Reese says, “We do a thorough synopsis to help people understand the play, but we don’t change the language at all; that’s ‘verboten.’ In Elizabethan times, they wouldn’t say, ‘I’m gonna go see a play.’ They’d say, ‘I’m gonna go hear a play.’ As I’m listening to the text, it’s like I can envision how it has to be staged: ‘the word to the action, the action to the word.’ And it’s true: The words have an action in them that I find profound and almost mystical. I don’t know of any other writer who is able to evoke that with the language.”
Michaels and Aston-Reese call Shakespeare the Neil Simon of his era: esoteric, but an earthy sort of crowd-pleaser at the same time. And Shakespeare is still contemporary, they (like so many others) maintain: same stuff, different times. “People should not be afraid of the language,” says Aston-Reese. “And we have some original music, written and performed by Steve Russomano in the style of bebop. We have a lot of fun with that, with the falsettos and the dancing.”
The illustrious cast and crew includes Terri Mateer as Rosalind, Brett Owen as Orlando, Zoë West as Celia, Michael DaTorre as Touchstone, Richard Scofield as Duke Frederick, Marcus O’Really as Duke Senior, Allan Edmands as Adam, Eric Jagoda as Silvius, Elli Michaels as Phebe, Chris Bailey as Corin and Wrestler, Andrew Austin as Oliver, Marcy Thorn as Audrey, Steve Russomano as Amiens (also musical director), Adolfo Ibañez Ayerve as Martex, Brandon Hargrove as William, Bethany Goldpaugh as La Beau, David Aston-Reese as Jaques (also director) and Morgan Thrapp as Third Lord (also stage manager), with Emily Cahill as production manager.
Come celebrate 16 years of free Shakespeare at the Comeau Property at 5 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from July 29 through September 4. Bring the family, bring a chair and bring a picnic. Admission is free, and donations are gratefully accepted. See www.birdonacliff.org for further information.