A Sunny Day in Ashland

by Philippa Kelly

A sunny day in Ashland, Oregon. A cup of black coffee (director Desdemona Chiang) and a pot of tea (me). Two people sitting in a café, brainstorming about what kind of infant is to be born, raised, and, within a month, sent out into the world as a full-grown being: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s mid-career exploration of greed, abandonment, ambition, the gift of contemplative peace, and the mysterious fact that no human being is beyond redemption.

“I’ve got two big ideas,” says Desdemona, “And I want you to talk me off the ledge or help me jump.”

So, while the sun filters out over the hills of Ashland, we talk about how these ideas might shape what we are about to prepare for our season opener at the Bruns. Desdemona’s first question: “Who is Rosalind in 2017? Who can she become? I want to have her do something more interesting than stepping back into a dress.”

Four hundred years of history have had Shakespeare’s Rosalind breaking out of the restrictions of court life into the Forest of Arden—in boy’s clothes, as Ganymede, Jove’s beautiful male page; using her newly-engendered (and regendered) freedom to go for broke, quickly arranging four marriages (including her own) with wit and wisdom. I’m intrigued by Desdemona’s question. Why must Rosalind step back once more into those old girl-clothes, content to live as wife and mother, looking back at the character of Ganymede as a brief dream of borrowed power? How about we consider that Rosalind actually likes her inner Ganymede? Enough to want to embrace him, to be both Ganymede and Rosalind? Why must she choose? Can she have both?

And what might this vision require of Orlando, Rosalind’s lover? Perhaps he can “come home,” too, to a place he’s never been before. Because despite all the long-winded poems he writes to Rosalind, Orlando does love Ganymede, his rubious lips and excellent complexion, his wit, his playfulness, his lawyer-like precision.

“I’ve always wondered why Rosalind suddenly jumps at the idea of dressing like a man”, says Desdemona. “It’s as if she seizes this surprise moment as an opportunity for liberation, something that feels inspiring to her.” So, as we kick back in the sun, Desdemona and I talk about what this can mean: what we can gain by keeping Ganymede with us; and what we might lose. Duke Senior, banished to the forest, can get his longed-for daughter back again—but not as she was. He’ll get Ganymede. And if, with him, we’ve been through the Forest of Arden—a symbolic “everywhere”, where the mind is opened and expanded, enriched and deepened, where the thrumming heartbeat of humanity replaces the drum beat of the city—“now” can be even better.

Our next big question…but we’ve run out of time. And so, after I’ve finished rehearsals that day with OSF’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, we plan a 5 pm meeting on my way to the airport—this time at our Ashland’s Liquid Assets, to lubricate, via wine, our expanding imaginations. “I’m interested in what the forest can mean,” says Desdemona. “Celia’s line: ‘I willingly would waste my time in it.’ It’s as if the forest is a place out-of-time.’” What if we invert the play’s city/vernal opposition, making Arden a place of transformation that speaks to our Bay Area today? Oakland is where Desdemona’s imagination has landed: not Oakland the place of gentrification, a cheaper real estate for urban dreams and aspirations; but the place of exile, the 24-hour hum of the streets, people surviving on very little under freeways and in abandoned lots.

Can Oakland be our Arden? We need a world where we can invite our audience into mystery and transformation—a place both familiar and strange, a place within whose rhythms the straitjacketed world of business and finance feels like a dream, far away. Money has no value in the forest—you can’t eat it. But love does. Compassion does. And a simple banquet, open to all, at a makeshift table under a bridge or in a park with rusty swings.

As You Like It begins performances May 24 and continues through June 18.
Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

This entry was posted in 2017 Season, As You Like It, By Philippa Kelly (dramaturg), Main Stage. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A Sunny Day in Ashland

  1. Emily Kim says:

    Philippa, I just saw this when I went on line to book tickets for my family. I love this idea about renewal. Right now we are in such a dark time in our history. Do you think we can be renewed? Or have we gone too far into the darkness?

    • philippa M kelly says:

      Hello Emily,
      Well, this is a tricky one. In my humble (and personal) opinion, where there is life there is hope, and we are still living so may hope. But I think if we give, if we truly give of ourselves, if we take risks and don’t let ourselves be cowed by utter venality, there is hope. Because we create it.

  2. Page Ellen says:

    philippa do you think Shakespeare was setting up for his dark tragedies in this play that has so much darkness? Was he on a downward spiral?

    • philippa M kelly says:

      Hello Page,
      I think this play – esp focussed in the character of jaques – has a lot of misanthropy. Shakespeare had a lot of disillusionment about the state of human nature. And yet he saw (and in Hamlet too) the absurdity of it. I think he was a pre-Beckett Beckett!! In an very different genre!

  3. RJ Sheperd says:

    I too am interested in time. Clock time seems such a limited way to govern the way we see the world and the universe

    • philippa M kelly says:

      Hello RJ,
      Yes, what I love about the forest is that the transgression of clock time is not just a reminder that clock time is just a construction – it is a metaphor for transgressing the self-imposed straitjackets that we wear- including all the social expectations that keep us aligned with the myriad ways in which life teaches us to “rehearse” ourselves, ever more stringently perfecting ourselves into narrow constraints.

  4. Harley M says:

    I second the comment from the person above. My friend at the show wasn’t clear about what it meant to have Rosalind not shake out her hair at the end. Your blog enabled us to really enjoy this moment together

    • philippa M kelly says:

      Thank you Harley. Sometimes I think that one of the great beauties of a show is being able to share our thoughts afterwards. We’ve been 400 people sharing a 2-and-a-hafl hour experience – and then suddenly we’re alone walking down the hill and to bed. (Well, people like me don’t go straight to bed) It is so wonderful to get to chew over that moment in a blog if not in person. There are losses also in not getting your daughter back – but amazing gains in getting a new person who, because of her OWN INGENUITY, is no longer required to rehearse and perfect her pre-scripted part. Even today, I feel that Hillary Clinton largely lost the election because people still expect women so stringently to fit the categories laid out for them – and that all it took was accusations of “rotten Hillary” for the public to think, “Oh, she is not fitting her rehearsed part – yes, she is rotten, untrustworthy, unpresidential etc, to back up against all the history of that woman’s social advocacy, legislative achievement and accomplishment as a world statesperson. I shouldn’t be waxing political here. But heck, it’s 4 in the morning.

  5. Emily P Stone says:

    Philippa, I just love coming to your blogs after I’ve seen the show, not before. Cool to read these comments here already. Love the way you just widen the vistas of what we’re seeing as wide as the beautiful hills of Orinda. So interesting, isn’t it, that productions like this and the wonderful ideas you and the director share are germinated in FOREST land!!!

  6. philippa M kelly says:

    Hi Emily, what a lovely thought. The forest is a place of transformation, and we are in the forest for this transformative experience! The question I have is: can we stay in the forest? Is it only when we leave that we fully understand the nature of our transformation?

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