New production reinterprets Shakespeare as Pitt Rep likes it

Jeff Ihaza | April 6, 2011    

“As You Like It”

Pitt Repertory Theatre

Now… “As You Like It”

Pitt Repertory Theatre

Now through Sunday

Charity Randall Theatre

Now through Saturday 8 p.m.

Sunday 2 p.m.

Student tickets $12


A Bollywood-style dance number and highly stylized violence always make for a good Hollywood film. For Pitt Repertory Theatre, they make for good Shakespeare as well.

The Pitt Repertory Theatre will perform a contemporary twist on William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” now through Sunday.

The show will be held in the Charity Randall Theatre adjacent to the Stephen Foster Memorial.

Sam Turich, the director of the show, said the contemporary twist might be off-putting to those who believe Shakespeare’s works should only be performed in their original Elizabethan forms.

“I’ve definitely encountered certain strict constructionists of Shakespeare. The thing about it is, Shakespeare was performing for an Elizabethan audience in Elizabethan times, so for them, his work was contemporary,” Turich said.

The production features many action sequences — so much that there is an actual “fight director.” Michael Mueller, who fills that position, said his job is to peruse the text of the play for potential fight scenes and to ensure safe but effective stage combat. In one such sequence, characters Orlando and Charles engage in a wrestling match.

Mueller noted that he has to be simultaneously concerned with the safety of the actors and the believability of the fighting.

“Basically I have to make it as intense for the audience as possible, but at the same time make sure no one gets hurt,” Mueller said.

The actors, he said, repeatedly run through all of the fight scenes in slow motion to reduce injuries and memorize the choreography.

As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the resolution of the play comes in the form of another choreographed art — a dance. Pitt Rep’s version, in keeping with its modern bent, features a Bollywood-themed number. Turich, who listed that scene as one of his favorite aspects of the play, said the idea for the dance came from one of the assistant directors who worked as a choreographer as well.

“We were trying to figure out a way to interpret the end of the text and one of the assistant directors brought up the idea of a Bollywood dance. You can tell the students really enjoy it; a lot of them haven’t done this kind of dance before,” Turich said.

Pitt senior Julianne Avolio, an actress in the play, said the dance was one of the many ways Turich strived to explore something new.

“I really like scenes like the dance number at the end. It’s nice to try something different and take some risks with a new concept,” Avolio said.

Avolio, who has been performing theater since middle school, said she was familiar with many of Shakespeare’s works, but this was her first time performing in one of his plays.

Junior Moira Quigley, who also performs in the play, said she was also familiar with the works of Shakespeare and thought the contemporary twist made the play more fun for the actors as well as the audience. Turich had a similar outlook.

“Hopefully when people see this performance they get the idea that theater can indeed be fun and entertaining,” Turich said.

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