The "All the world's a stage" monologue from Shakespeare's As You Like It is a roadmap of sorts for a globetrotting repertory troupe called the Acting Company. Since launching in 1972, it has trained several stars of the stage and screen, including Broadway luminary Patti LuPone and Academy Award winner Kevin Kline.
Over time the limelight fades for many performers, but these actors' careers have endured several of the life stages the speech describes, from lustful young adulthood to wisdom-rich middle age. Maybe that's why the company brings such vitality to As You Like It, which it will perform at UW Vilas Hall's Mitchell Theatre Feb. 7 and 8.
As You Like It follows two banished royals as they find love in exile. Though this comedy is four centuries old, its commentary on class and mortality is timeless. Some aspects of the play even feel modern, such as how the protagonist, Rosalind, cross-dresses and challenges traditional gender roles.
Director Dan Rothenberg has imagined an ethereal version of the play, complete with an enchanted forest and a dreamy, Shins-esque score by Mike Kiley.
"Shakespeare refers to the forest as palm trees and evergreens and a desert, but we have a much more playful forest, akin to Where the Wild Things Are," says Joe Midyett, who plays Orlando, Rosalind's love interest.
This contemporary twist is part of the Acting Company's educational mission. Their interpretations of classical plays are often tailored to younger theatergoers, and they hold workshops with high school and college students during many of their tour stops.
Though lots of audiences appreciate this fresh approach, the company risks offending Shakespeare purists with its bold choices. But it's not backing down. After all, the Bard himself invited controversy, notes Elizabeth Stahlmann, the production's Rosalind.
"Shakespeare challenges audiences to look at societal constructs and how we ultimately fall in love," she says. "Rosalind wants to teach Orlando how to love her as a woman. It just so happens she's a dude named Ganymede the whole time. Sometimes she makes the most sexist remarks while disguised as a man, but I think it's hilarious because Shakespeare is making big comments about gender."
Rosalind drops the disguise, of course, but not before Shakespeare gets the crowd thinking about what it means to be a dream girl. If the Acting Company's stage presence is as strong as their opinions, its take on this tale is likely to leave you smitten.