Confession, I can never get enough of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. This passion, which dangerously borders on obsession, was inaugurated several years ago when I first stepped into the outdoor amphitheater to see Romeo and Juliet set during the 20s. That evening the cast shimmered with flappers dripping in fringe and the smooth notes of jazz ushered in a sunset that stained the stage in faded shades of rose and lavender. As the twilight shifted from an arbor of floral colors to an arch of star studded navy night I was enchanted to say the least. The acting was gorgeous and the entire experience so enthralling I nearly shed a tear or two as I joined the rest of the audience in giving the performers a standing ovation. Since then I have come back year after year, letting myself soak in each moment and aspect of the performance, never being disappointed by whatever theatrical delight was being offered at the time. So when I had the opportunity last weekend of going to see As You Like It, I didn't exactly complain. The play itself is considered to be one of Shakespeare's lesser works, an early piece that, if it had not been penned by Shakespeare, might not be noteworthy at all. The story is a light and airy comedy complete with banished dukes, runaway maidens disguised as men, and Robin Hood like fugitives hiding in the forest – a plot resulting in a denouement tying up loose ends so perfectly it borders on the ridiculous by having the four main couples get married in a single wedding. This play in the wrong hands could easily result in forgettable theatrical fluff that falls flat in the final scene, so when I walked into the amphitheater last week and got settled on my little patch of lawn I was filled with curiosity – what would The Idaho Shakespeare Festival do with this piece?
For starters, true to their form they ditched the traditional Shakespearean garb and setting and replaced it with something novel, in this case As You Like It it was set the Second Industrial Revolution somewhere in New England. The dukedom took on a rusted industrial flavor that any newsie would have recognized as home and the forest became the Adirondack Mountains populated with backwoods men and someone who must have been a relative of Annie Oakley. This setting choice was fantastic, adding a dynamic to the tale I would never have expected, besides, they had a barbershop quartet woven into the performance. A barbershop quartet and Shakespeare? It doesn't get much quirkier or more fantastic than that! All the actors performed wonderfully but Dustin Tucker as Touchstone, the Court Fool absolutely stole the show, and David Anthony Smith as Jaques, a melancholy gentleman moved the entire audience as he said the oft quoted piece, "all the world's a stage", to the point that even though the action was supposed to continue in the scene the entire audience had to interrupt to applause at its beauty.
That evening I left the amphitheater with a wide smile on my face. For while it was not one of Shakespeare's great pieces, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival made it an absolutely great experience, full of laughs and smiles and even a few moments of heart wrenching beauty. More productions such as Deathtrap, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Steel Magnolias, and the piece I most look forward to, Les Miserables, will be at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival this summer, so don't miss a chance to go see Shakespeare under the stars soon!