Stanford Shakespeare Company’s ‘As You Like It’ enters the dream world

Feb. 27, 2022, 10:08 p.m.

To reach the Elliott Program Center, a small theater located on the far side of Lake Lagunita, one must leave behind the known parts of Stanford’s campus and voyage instead to its very western edge. It’s a long journey, but as I walked past lakeside bonfires and lamplit, tree-lined paths to reach the theater’s golden interior on Thursday night, I felt like I’d already entered a far-away world before the Stanford Shakespeare Company’s production of “As You Like It” had even begun. But once it did, the brilliant score, beautiful costuming and emotional performances came together to create a fully immersive world. 

One of Shakespeare’s finest comedies, “As You Like It” explores the shenanigans that ensue when Rosalind (Caroline Sasso ’25), along with her cousin Celia (Sawyer Niehaus ’25), escape to the Forest of Arden to find Orlando (Finn Paisley ’23), Rosalind’s beloved. Disguised as a young boy named Ganymede, Rosalind instructs Orlando on the art of loving. Along the way, Rosalind, Celia and Orlando stumble across a cast of memorable characters, including Touchstone the fool (Jasper McAvity ’23), Jacques the melancholic lord (Riley Plaut-Deweese ’25) and Silvius the lovelorn shepherd (Finn Slingerland ’23). 

The student-run theater company, nicknamed StanShakes, successfully brought the woodland world of “As You Like It” to life in an ambitious, unforgettable production. Directed by Audrey Senior ‘22 and produced by Abla Ghaleb ’22, every detail was immaculately curated. By the middle of the play, I’d forgotten the world outside the theater; I was transported completely to the Forest of Arden. 

One of the highlights of the production was its original music, composed by Wilder Seitz ’23. Inspired by the American folk genre, the score felt at once familiar yet entirely new for Shakespeare. It also added a cozy warmth to the play; characters gathered by the fire broke out into songs accompanied by fiddles, piano or guitar. One of the more memorable musical moments occured when Amiens (Patrick Flores ’24) began to sing, only to be accompanied by Jacques in a hilarious, horrible, off-pitch duet.

Visually, the world of “As You Like It” was also a sheer delight. Cecilia Ergueta’s ’23 costume design was whimsical and warm, full of earth tones, paisley, plaid and floral patterns. The most charming costumes in the play — including a headpiece made of twigs and acorns, a knit cap and vest adorned with little jingling bells and a regal get-up composed of a floor-length fur cape and a floral full-skirt — looked straight out of a childhood storybook. 

The music and costuming choices allowed the characters to shine on stage. Rosalind and Celia made the perfect troublemaking duo: at every dramatic whim of Rosalind’s, Celia responded with equal mischief; both characters seemed liable at any moment to squeal or faint or launch into a series of jokes. But there was a genuine pathos behind their relationship too: when Rosalind was first banished from the kingdom by Duke Francis (Lexi Linker ’23), Celia clung to Rosalind, unwilling and unable to let her go.

Sasso played a mesmerizing Rosalind. Lively and unpredictable, dramatic and witty, she snorted whenever she was amused by her own jokes (which was often) and delighted in putting on a grand performance as Ganymede. She felt everything with the fullness of her wild heart and never backed away from her desires.

And as Rosalind grew closer and closer to Orlando, she realized that she was loved and valued for all those aspects of herself. When I spoke to Sasso before Thursday’s production, she said, “I want Rosalind to convince audiences that they also deserve the same type of open, accepting love she finds in the end.” This moving conviction in the transformative power of love came alive through Sasso’s performance.

Between the beautiful music, the storybook costuming and the ardent belief in love, everything about StanShake’s production of “As You Like It” was an absolute dream. There was something refreshingly earnest and beautiful about a production with such an open-hearted willingness to dream, a production that not only surrendered itself to the whimsy of dreams but also fully believed that they could help us envision better worlds. 

No moment of the play felt more dream-like than the final scene. With all of the marriages complete, the characters gathered together to sing an original composition by Seitz. Orlando whipped out a soprano saxophone and began playing as Rosalind shuffled in a fun little twist; Charles (Sierra Corcoran ’25), Celia and Amiens harmonized in a beautiful trio to the lyrics of “as you like it, darling, as you like it.” Through this richly textured medley, the finale celebrated all the voices and work that go into building a dream.

After the play ended, I walked back out into the world, where the moon hung over the empty pit of Lake Lagunita. It was bitter cold outside; I was barely prepared in a thin windbreaker and my teeth chattered as I made the trek home. Already, the play was fading from me; as if rising slowly to consciousness, threads from the dream were beginning to dissipate from my memories as the waking world returned. It was bittersweet to know I couldn’t hold on forever, but as I thought back to the delights of “As You Like It,” I was comforted by the sudden warmth that flooded through me, this curious hope that comes only after a dream.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques. This article was corrected to reflect that Duke Francis was played by Lexi Linker ’23. The Daily regrets this error.

Lydia Wei '24 is an Arts and Life columnist for the Daily. She loves blackberries. Contact Lydia at lydiawei 'at' stanford.edu

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