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Arden/Everywhere – Baruch Performing Arts Center, New York

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director & Adaptor: Jessica Bauman

Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers

New Feet Productions’ adaptation of As You Like It highlights the international refugee crisis with its staging of Shakespeare’s classic tale of exile and hidden identity. Hinting at modernity but with no tangible time period, the production creates a sense of timelessness amid a set consisting of wooden pallets and crumbling cement in a functionally visceral set designed by Gabriel Evansohn. The slick, besuited manor of the court stands in stark juxtaposition to the refugee space just outside. Much like the world today, neighboring communities may only be a few miles apart geographically, but may as well be on different planets in regard to the quality of life of their inhabitants.

Featuring a diverse cast including many immigrants to the US, director Jessica Bauman’s play is rich and gripping. Being one of Shakespeare’s arguably thinner plots, As You Like It is often difficult to stage. However, with an adept cast and expert direction, this production reverberates with a relevant and engaging energy. The fantastic cast breathes vibrant life into the text, with a commitment to relentless pacing and allowing the stream-of-consciousness nature of the dialogue to come alive. In particular, Helen Cespedes (Rosalind), Anthony Carson (Orlando), Kambi Gathesha (Oliver/Silvius), Dennis Kozee (Touchstone), and Liba Vaynberg (Celia) drive poetry of the language without allowing themselves to become mired in it. They seek out and share the nuance and charm of the story, bringing the refugee camp of Arden to life. Masterfully handling the double-cast roles of Charles and Corin is Kenneth De Abrew, whose charm, specificity, and vulnerability onstage make two semi-minor characters shine brightly. In De Abrew’s hands, Corin is almost a political figure, running the bodega-inspired shop in Arden and facilitating the needs of the camp’s inhabitants.

Layering in personal narratives and native languages of various cast members brings As You Like It to new life. A cacophony of voices in different tongues telling stories and asking for help is urgent and visceral. Bauman does not shy away from calling out the darkness in the play’s final moments: only those with birthrights may return to their rightful home, while the others must remain encamped. The humanity inherent in Shakespeare’s work set against the background of a modern refugee camp strikes one in both the heart and conscience. Leaving the theater, one wants to fight for the rights of all, while hoping that those abusing power will see the error of their ways before it is too late. If and when they do, the rest of us will have to bring those who need it most into solace and safety with us.

Runs until 28 October 2017 | Image: Russell Rowland

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