Shakespeare kicks of Maskers' new season

Jan 19, 2020
Belfast Maskers actors at an early reading of "As You Like It."

Belfast — One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, "As You Like It," will open the Belfast Maskers 33rd season on Thursday, March 12, for Preview Night. Directing the production is Erik Perkins, a veteran of dozens of shows with the Maskers and other area theater companies.

Perkins has chosen to set the production in the late 1960s, saying, “I think the semi-modern setting helps a contemporary audience relate to the original material in new ways, with new perspective and insight.” He points out that it’s not at all uncommon to set productions of Shakespeare’s plays in time periods completely unrelated to the original, and "As You Like It" is no exception — in 2005, Kenneth Branagh moved the play to a colony in 19th-century Japan for his film.

"As You Like It" is a pastoral comedy, and Perkins explains that “some of that genre’s motifs — happy marriages, presenting the country as an idyllic retreat, connecting with nature, living the simple life — are tailor-made to the 1960s lifestyle when people tuned in, turned on, dropped out, and returned to the land.” He also says that he wanted to set the play in a time when the feminism movement was a powerful force in the U.S. in order to highlight the fact that Rosalind— the lead character — is the largest female role Shakespeare wrote and, arguably, the one with the most agency.

Although Shakespeare obviously was not writing about Second Wave Feminism and The Sexual Revolution, the topics do have some easy parallels in the script, Perkins points out. For this production, he has re-cast Duke Frederick, the Usurper, as a woman (played by Danielle Bannister) and says that he’s looking forward to seeing how that dynamic develops in the rehearsal process. With the exception of changing a few pronouns to accommodate that change, Perkins is remaining true to Shakespeare’s original language. Although, he has made some fairly sizable cuts to the script to help the show move along at a fun and fast pace.

Maskers Artistic Director Meg Nickerson is especially pleased that the season opener is a Shakespearean play. His works were a hallmark of the Maskers’ early years and she believes it’s important to reconnect with the group’s history as they forge a new future in their new theater. “The Maskers have a long, rich history in our community that I’ve been privileged to be a part of since 1991,” she said. “It’s very exciting to see old and new Maskers working together to produce this classic play with a fresh, new approach.”

Leading the cast as Rosalind is Autumn Stupca, a recent UNE graduate. Stupca is likely familiar to theatergoers from her previous work in Belfast Area High School productions, as well as from plays she’s performed with local companies during school breaks. Other leads include the dashing Orlando (Dakota Wing), Rosalind’s cousin Celia (Erin Hayes), and one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, the jester Touchstone (Tyler Johnstone). The bulk of the comedy takes place in the Forest of Arden, where the main characters are surrounded by a host of memorable and witty characters performed by both new and veteran Maskers.

"As You Like It" contains many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches: “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players (spoken by the melancholy Jacques, portrayed by Tom Crutcher); “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak” (Rosalind); “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (Touchstone); and “Oh, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes” (Orlando).

Music is an integral part of the play, serving as a means to character development. Singing two of the most famous songs, “Under the Greenwood Tree” and “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” will be Phoebe Norman in the role of Amiens. Other singers include Patricia Saucier and Melora Norman, while Mike Nickerson will provide musical accompaniment.

"As You Like It" will be performed on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, March 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21, at 7 p.m. and on Sundays, March 15 and 22, at 2 p.m. Special Preview Night on March 12 offers half-price tickets. Performances are at the Basil Burwell Community Theater, 17 Court St. Ample free parking surrounds the theater.

Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for age 12 and younger; and will be available at Left Bank Books,109 Church St., at the door and online at belfastmaskers.com.

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