If the heat of summer has you longing to escape to the cool shade of the forest, you’re not alone: The lovers (both hesitant and willing) in Bag&Baggage’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, are also escaping to the forest, for love and merriment.
But Bag&Baggage isn’t settling for any other production of As You Like It. Its production — titled As You Like It, or Love in a Forest — combines Shakespeare’s As You Like It with Charles Johnson’s Love in a Forest, based on the same text Shakespeare based his on, and written more than 100 years later.
Bag&Baggage Associate Artistic Director Cassie Greer adapted this script for Bag&Baggage’s Vault Theater and the outdoor alley next to the building, in the heart of downtown Hillsboro. Greer also directs, and sometimes you wonder if she has brought this play to Hillsboro or if she has brought Hillsboro to this play. Either way, it works magically.
When audiences arrive, their arm is stamped (“For a play?!”), and they are ushered outside to the alley between Vault Theater and the McNally’s Taproom, to the confusion of most (including pub patrons, who get a sneak peek at the opening act of the play). As You Like It opens with a boxing match in the city, and placing it in this alley, under condo balconies, with people mingling and drinking (and, unfortunately, FaceTiming) nearby, makes that all the more real.
When Orlando, Rosalind, and Celia make their escape for the forest of Arden, they will quietly lead the audience inside the Vault, which has been transformed into a recycled forest. At first you might wonder why you go inside to represent the outside, but then you’ll notice Jim Ricks-White’s meticulously crafted, recycled scenic design: trees made of recycled two-by-fours, clothes strewn about the ceiling — creating colorful and interesting filters for Ricks-White’s lighting.
The movement from one place to another truly does transport the audience from a city court to the forest, where you will stay until heading back outside for the closing, when the characters return to the city. The costumes by Melissa Heller — all black and white in the court, and Renaissance-faire colorful in the forest — also help with the transportation. They could be contemporary or from hundreds of years ago, too, making it equally believable that this is happening now as that it happened in 1600.
And then there are the eight impressive actors who portray more than 20 characters, each one displaying a skill with Shakespeare’s language and a gift for comedy. Israel Bloodgood and Amber Bogdewiecz don’t seem like a good match when they seemingly fall in love over nothing at the boxing match; she is taller, more mature, and more sophisticated. But before long that magical forest — along with captivating performances by these two — will have you fully bought in to their romance. Arianne Jacques imbues Celia with strength and feminism, especially when she wins over Andrew Beck’s Jaques without even trying — a particular feat considering how anti-love and marriage Jaques begins the play. Beck gives a brilliantly stuffy performance and makes the oft-recited “All the world’s a stage” speech seem new. The lovely Roxanne Stathos plays hilariously against her type here, in several sad-sack or clown/fool roles. And Signe Larsen is a multi-threat — singing, playing music, acting brilliantly, and choreographing the play’s fight scenes (plus playing Orlando’s boxing rival, Charles, in the opening scene). Jared Mack and TS McCormick also bring many characters to life on stage (and outside), in addition to playing music and singing (Mack is also music director).
When the play returns to court, and the cast and audience move back outside, the boxing ring has become a sparkly-lit stage in the night sky. Neighbors watch from their balconies as this comedy wraps up just as you either expect or remember. But Greer has added a new epilogue, performed by the entire cast, that brings today’s world into the play and makes it more relevant and timely than just another summer love story.
As You Like It has always been the perfect play for a summer evening and is even more so in this lovely retelling with an expert cast and two perfect settings in Hillsboro.
Bag&Baggage’s As You Like It, or Love in a Forest continues through July 29. Ticket and schedule information here.