“Peace, Love & Free Admission” promises the Healdsburg Raven Players’ program for William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” This play, complete with 1967 dress styles and music, opened Thurs., July 25, in West Plaza Park and will run through Aug. 10.
The cover of the program shows a tree from the Forest of Arden holding two notes, perhaps posted by Orlando, containing a heart on one and a raven on the other. At the bottom of the page a raven holds a sign that says, “Peace, Love and Shakespeare.” A young lady with lovely long flowing auburn hair wears a red mini-dress covered with the kind of flowers that once decorated Volkswagen bugs during that Summer of Love.
The program tells that the time is the Summer of Love, 1967, and the place, “The Downer Court and the Groovy Forest of Arden.” Beatles’ music and other familiar tunes from fifty years ago regale the audience as it enters, sets up chairs and blankets to enjoy a picnic repast thirty minutes prior to the start of the show. Actors in costumes offer tickets for a drawing for a gift certificate to Bear Republic and some fine bottles of wine.
Expect slapstick, visual jokes and punch line laughs in every scene. The actors engage with the audience as well as with each other. Orlando (Azulito Bernal) with his faithful family servant, Adam (Harry Farmer), play off each other in a manner that sets the tone of Orlando’s grievances while serving to deliver some exposition or background information without overdramatizing the scene.
Orlando’s brother, Oliver (Patricio Becerril) appears sinister but also weak enough to allow credibility for certain changes that will occur in the Forest of Arden. Following his appearance, La Beau (Stephanie Carrillo) and Charles the Wrestler (Declan Hackett) steal this first scene with their comedic portrayals as each directly involves the audience with their interests.
In the next scene, Shakespeare’s strongest female character, Rosalind (Grace Reid), and her cousin, Celia (Haley Hollis) liven the stage with more information about the past combined with their hope to entertain themselves with the game of love. La Beau tells them to stay where they are and observe the wrestling match between Orlando and Charles.
One of Shakespeare’s best clowns, a court jester called Touchstone (Matt Farrell) joins the cousins to please them with puns and inside jokes. Enter Touchstone’s counterpart, Duke Frederick (Kevin Pryne), Celia’s father, to serve as a sort of 19th century melodramatic villain to evoke hisses from everyone. His actions cause a shift of scene from Downer Court to the Groovy Forest of Arden.
In the forest, “living as the Robin Hood of old once did,” Duke Senior (Ron Smith), Rosalind’s father, the man ousted by his brother Duke Frederick, resides with the “Arden Commune.” Duke Senior’s followers (Abby Miranda, Stephanie Ascarate, Kinley Hartman, Sammie Moore, and Maddie Larson) rag-tag musicians create fun and some fine entertainment as they reproduce bits of some well-known sixties’ songs.
Six other forest dwellers add to the joy of living the rural life. The old shepherd Corin (Nicholas Augusta) plays the wise advisor to the love-sick Silvius (Zack Acevedo) and injects some 60s humor as a prepares something that resembles a makeshift smoke.
Jaques (Athena Gundlach) the melancholy follower of Duke Senior expresses his displeasure with life without detracting from the light-hearted atmosphere of one of Shakespeare’s three best comedies. Jaques’ set piece, “All the World’s a Stage” rings true as conversation integrated with the story and the dialogue.
Audrey (Maddie Larson) teases poor William (Declan Hackett) and leads him on while she receives like treatment by Touchstone. Phebe (Hande Gokbas) loves herself more than she loves her suitor, Sylvias. And Lady Olivia Martext (Hande Gokbas) attempts to make bawdry Audrey a decent woman with a marriage.
Director Steven David Martin has put together a fun evening of Healdsburg Square for all who enjoy sixties music, laugh a minute schticks and a time travel back to the Summer of Love.
“As You Like It” plays in West Plaza Park in Healdsburg beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. Admission is free. For more information contact online: raventheater.org.