This weekend the Millsaps theater department reopened the stage in the Christian Center with a production of the first play ever performed at Millsaps over a century ago: Shakespeare’s As You Like It. For the most part, this production managed to maintain the delicate balance of engaging a modern audience while maintaining the integrity of the 400-year-old text. However, there were a few moments when the production tried too hard, which broke the flow of the play. For example, during the All the World’s a Stage speech, the other characters on stage acted out the speech which made the whole thing feel overdone and almost condescending to the audience.
Director Peter Friedrich managed to bring the pastoral nature of an Elizabethan forest to the Christian Center by having Kindergarten-aged daughters of the faculty pass out flowers to audience members, and a small choir and a pianist provided a background of love songs, among other smaller touches.
While all of the performers were delightful, Krystal Jackson stood out in her role as Rosalind, the young daughter of an exiled Duke. Jackson delivered a feisty yet vulnerable and believable portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s only fully developed female characters, despite this being her first theatrical production. Another actress of note was Samesa Hoskin, who played a number of roles and stole virtually every scene she was in.
The production also did a wonderful job of coding the characters so that their social-rank was apparent despite their modern dress. The upper class wore private-school uniforms and business clothes, while the lower class wore stereotypically redneck clothes and used country accents. As this is something that can easily be lost on modern audiences, this was a nice touch.
Keely Parker, who played sassy shepherdess Phoebe, was initially drawn to the production because of its nontraditional aspects. She says the cast tried to put a modern twist to make the centuries-old text more accessible. “A lot of people can be thrown off by Shakespeare because the language is so antiquated, and a lot of times it’s not presented in a way that’s accessible to the people watching it,” Parker says. “I think it’s really atypical to see a play that’s classic theater like this with musical interludes.”