Hunt for love in ‘As You Like It’

Jaiden Holder, who plays the role of Rosalind, smiles as her love interest, Orlando (played by Toby Sampson) writes poetry (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For the eighth straight summer, Keizer Homegrown Theater continues their tradition of Shakespeare in the Park with their rendition of the romantic comedy As You Like It.

The play is free to the public and will take place at the Keizer Rotary Amphitheater in Keizer Rapids Park July 17-20 with each performance starting at 7 p.m.

Director Kayla Mansur — who is doing her first ever show with Keizer Homegrown Theater — has always been a fan of Shakespeare, but this particular play has a special place in her heart. 

As You Like It was the first Shakespeare show I ever saw live, so I have always gravitated towards it and it has become my favorite comedy,” Mansur said. “It’s so honest about how stupid we can be for love. Every character in this show is in love with something and that’s what drives their decisions.”

“It so encompasses the perfect summer love story.” 

Mansur is the technical theater assistant at West Salem High School and directed the school’s production of As You Like It just two months ago. She was also able to convince two of her graduating seniors to play key roles in the performance. 

Jaiden Holder plays the role of Rosalind, a good-natured heroine who is independent and strong-willed, who cleverly disguises herself as a man in order to take control of her own fate. 

“It portrays how love is ridiculous and makes you do ridiculous things,” Holder said. “It’s an all-around good time with a lot of laughs.”

Elly Gottsch, who is also a 2019 West Salem grad, plays the role of Celia, Rosalind’s cousin and best friend. Celia is very loyal and devoted to Rosalind, and falls madly in love with Oliver (played by Connor O’Ryan), who starts the play as a jerk, but then transforms into a charismatic character. 

But despite her caring heart, Celia is vulnerable to emotions that are on the verge of irrational. 

“I love Shakespeare in general, so getting the chance to be a part of one of the shows that has such big female roles is very empowering to be a part of,” Gottsch said.

While she wants to stay fairly close to the original story, Mansur also adds some unique spins on the play.

For instance, Mansur split the role of Touchstone — a court jester who points out the foolishness of those around him — into two separate characters that are brother and sister. 

There are also some characters that have traditionally been cast by males — like the roles of Jaques and Corin — that are being played by female actors. And instead of having the setting be in traditional Renaissance style, Mansur has the story taking place during the late 1800s in a “riverboat gambling” setting. 

“The wonderful part about Shakespeare is that he’s been dead long enough that no one really cares if you change the story in some ways,” Mansur said. “For the most part, I’ve been pretty honest to the original concept of the story, but we made some specific changes to this version that differ from how Shakespeare originally wrote it.”

Mansur also decided to re-write the final scene. 

One of the other things that will separate this play from other local productions is that there will be several instances where the cast interacts with the audience. 

“I tell them to go bug the audience. Go find a nice family, sit with them, steal their food,” Mansur said. “That’s the thing about live theater. You get the opportunity to have an energy exchange with the audience.”

Ed Stiner, who plays the role of Adam, a humble and loyal servant, has been in numerous local productions over the last six years in the Salem-Keizer area. But one thing he still marvels at is the talent that this area has to offer, as well as the talent that is in this show. 

“It’s a great group. There’s some talented people here who create good characters,” Stiner said. “In finding community theater, I was surprised to find out how much talent there is in the Salem-Keizer area. There are a lot of people that could, in my opinion, make it on the big screen or Broadway if they wanted to.”

Even if someone isn’t the biggest fan of Shakespeare, Mansur believes that anyone who attends will enjoy the show. 

“It’s great family-fun. Anyone can enjoy this show, regardless of their experience with Shakespeare. That’s the upside of it being a comedy,” Mansur said.