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A modern take on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”

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Stony Brook University’s Department of Theatre Arts put a modern twist on Shakespeare’s classic “As You Like It.” PHOTO COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE ARTS

William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It” is adapted for modern audiences in the Stony Brook University Department of Theatre Arts’ performances running April 7 to April 17 at the Staller Center.

“It’ll be quite noticeably different than other Shakespeare you’ve seen because you’ll notice some modern pop songs in the middle of it and some phones and text messages,” Liam Wallace, who plays Orlando, a love interest in the play, said.

The play is a five-act story that is the origin of well-known phrases like “All the world’s a stage” and “Too much of a good thing.” It takes place in France and follows a young woman named Rosalind after her father, Duke Senior, is usurped by his brother. Director John Lutterbie and Shakespearean scholar Amy Cook altered the 400-year-old play to include more modern twists.

“The music isn’t accessible to student audiences, so if we were to do some sort of Renaissance music, it wouldn’t do anything for them,” Lutterbie said. “We’ve added what we call ‘karaoke’ tunes, so we use contemporary songs that we have interspersed in the play in place of songs that Shakespeare had and a couple places where Shakespeare did not imagine them happening.”

“Viva la Vida” by Coldplay and “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic are a couple of these modern “karaoke” songs Lutterbie chose to include in his adaptation. In the original version of the play, Orlando writes poems and hangs them on the trees of the Forest of Arden where young Rosalind is in hiding.

“We decided, again to update this for contemporary audiences, to change the writing of poems on paper that were hung on trees to doing it as tweets,” Lutterbie said. “So we have a lot of gags, if you will, where people are referencing their phones for different things in a way that Shakespeare obviously wouldn’t have known about.” 

The modern changes were made to make the play more accessible to its mostly student audience, according to Lutterbie.

“I liked the way they modernized it in terms of attitude and clothes, like transplanting it basically into any setting,” Natalie Christensen, a freshman psychology major at Stony Brook, said. “That was an interesting choice to just not leave it like what the original period was.”

Though the play includes modern songs and even a clip from a UFC fight, most of Shakespeare’s original words were left alone except to condense the play.

“The text is the same but the style of the play using that text is completely modern,” Christopher Johnson, who plays Oliver, said.

This means Shakespeare’s original blank verse or poems with no rhyme that use iambic pentameter are maintained. The archaic wording of Shakespeare’s original text can be difficult to understand.

“It’s almost like it’s in another language,” Wallace said.

“I hope people won’t be intimidated by the thought of the language,” Wallace added. “If the actors know what they’re saying, the language is actually very delightful and lively and funny.”

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