I think that one of the key questions of As You Like It is ‘What
is Arden, and why do people who are disadvantaged flee to it?’ Arden is a place
of refuge and a place of promise, which is how many an immigrant has seen America.
And since America has always mythologized its history in film, this production
will take place on a movie set in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The characters
will journey across the country and its history, and we’ll take our cues from
some very well-known movies to chart that journey. As an immigrant myself,
this is my love letter to America.
Among these immigrants, Rosalind really embodies the new identity, the new
life and the new freedom that this new world offers. She’s more herself in
Arden than she ever was at home. But Touchstone, for example, never comes to
terms with it; some immigrants don’t. It’s as if he refuses to learn the language.
He’s an urban man, a man of the court, and he never quite succumbs to Arden.
This is such a language-drunk play, and what’s fascinating is that the pentameter
verse is used in a much more conversational way than in most of Shakespeare’s
other plays. In fact it’s often difficult to tell that it is actually verse,
since it has the cadences of natural speech. A line like “What had he to do
to chide at me?” doesn’t sound like verse, does it?
This production is a reunion of sorts—it was one of the first plays I worked
on when Michael Kahn invited me to teach at Juilliard years ago. I directed
a production of As You Like It in a small room, and it contained the
kernel of the concept for this production, in that they arrived in America
when they traveled to Arden. We managed to do the sea-voyage in a room, so
I think that may have stuck in Michael’s mind.
I’ve worked on the play several times. I played Rosalind when I was young,
at the Bristol Old Vic, and then directed a production in a park in London,
which I did as if it was an amateur film being made. So the play’s been brewing
away inside for a long time. I have no fear of the text because I’ve wallowed
in it for years, and I have some wonderful actors to do it.
It’s such a well-known play that Michael was prepared to let me take a few
liberties with this production. I wouldn’t do this with many other plays of
Shakespeare’s, but with this one I do feel some games can be played. Of course
we’ll be faithful to his magnificent story and language, but the American setting
should add a fun twist to the proceedings. I hope audiences will like the result
—it is called As You Like It, after all!