T. Charles Erickson
RuPaul. Prince. Adrienne Rich. Audre Lorde. The Yale School of Drama (YSD) production “shakespeare’s as u like it” turns up the amps and sheds glitter on just how gay this Ivy is. Through a magical modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” a cast of queer characters says shit girl, we’re not just “the Gay Ivy,” we’re a glittering forest of flower boas.
The majority of this two-hour long interactive production, which pulls acting talent from both the Yale School of Drama and Yale College, takes place in a converted room behind the Iseman Theater’s stage. The walls are lime green shag; the ceiling drips fairy lights and flower garlands. The room features four elevated shag carpet-covered stages with actors stationed on each. The main stage is decked out with a live band and a character in full-face drag style makeup, bejeweled tights and a raging mullet who introduces herself as “Hymen” (Shakespeare’s own decree) before performing for the crowd and inviting spectators to dance. “As u like it” is right out of 70’s radical revolution, complete with a feminist lesbian named “Dyke Senior” (in place of Shakespeare’s Duke Senior) with a jacket full of pins and patches emblazoned with taglines like “Queer Punx.”
Though the driving narrative follows the plot of “as u like it”, the production features a conglomeration of texts, each listed on a post-show handout labeled “Werqs Cited.” The best part of it all is the contrast from the play’s introduction, so I apologize for ruining the surprise. You wouldn’t be able to get tickets anyway; the show quickly sold out its week of performances (10/24-10/27). To try and score a ticket, arrive at the venue an hour early and put your name on the waitlist.
Upon entering the Iseman Theater, three guards pace the edges of the thrust stage. I arrived at 7:30 and the guards remained in-character and militant until the performance began at about 8:10. On each audience member’s seat was a badge and a golf pencil. The badge asks for a few criteria: name, sex, race, virility, occupation, net worth, number of “followers,” orientation (with options heterosexual or asexual) and finally an option of married or virgin. We all filled out our badges, a bit uncomfortable from the invasive questions and the guards who even interacted with the crowd by curtly asking whether we were finished with our pencils.
While we talked with our neighbors, a militant drum roll played over the speakers and three flat screen televisions live streamed close-up footage of audience members below block text. Among the messages: “the use of cellphones is strictly prohibited,” “the use of cameras or recording devices is strictly prohibited,” “we watch out for each other.” I shyly recorded my surroundings in my notebook, pausing whenever I felt the gaze of the guards. This is all to say, the immersion began immediately and effectively. Between notes I experimented with looking directly at the actors playing guards. They remained stoic and cruel. It was incredible.
The entire first half of the play crawls under your skin. It begins with a loud man’s speech on “young western men” self-declared as in favor of toxic masculinity. It is an obvious parody but strikes so close to home I was never sure whether or not to laugh. Following Shakespeare’s plot, the play’s introduction includes a match between two men: Orlando and Charles (Hudson Oznowicz and Brandon E. Burton, both third-year MFA candidates at the School of Drama). In Shakespeare’s play, the men wrestle. In YSD’s rendition, the match is a three-part competition with a “knowledge” portion including questions such as “what’s the number of sperm in a single ejaculation?” and “what’s the most effective way to decimate the western hemisphere?” The incorrect answer offered by Orlando? Nukes. Charles’ correct answer? Homosexuals.
So it’s a surprise when we, as an audience, run away with two characters as they flee their home and the court, down the Iseman Theater hallway, into a queer and vibrant haven. The contrast is nothing short of breathtaking as you look all around you to hear the many-pitched voices of joyous rebellion. “As u like it” is immersive. It’s political. It’s contemporary. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s not to be missed.
Julia Leatham | firstname.lastname@example.org .