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Shakespeare comedy to be part of Art in the Park

The full cast of the Shakespearean play "As You Like It" poses at the Lake Bemidji waterfront at the site of this weekend's performances. The play runs tonight through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with 3:30 p.m. performances Saturday and Sunday. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

As Shakespeare once thought, all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, and each has the same exits and entrances.

One of the greatest comedies of Shakespeare will open this week at Bard in the Park under the big tent on the waterfront. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, July 16-19, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 18 and 19.

"As You Like It," when staged by Shakespeare at Stratford, all the players were men and young boys. They played the male and female parts.

Director, Cate Belleveau, is bringing her cast of women from the Mask and Rose Women's Theater Collective to play all the parts - the banished duke, his daughter Rosalind, her love interest Orlando and a score of other characters. She has set the play in the 1960s with a musical score by a Canadian rock group, "Bare Naked Ladies."

This staging was conceived for the Shax Festival in Ontario, Canada, and the setting is "The Summer of Love" in 1969 when some people thought that Utopia existed in the rural communes. Belleveau and her creative direction will be providing the audience an insight into the psyches of those "flower children" of the 1960s who wrestled with power and its abuses, love, gender identity and the search for the more perfect world. The innovative use of costumes and props will magically change the waterfront to the Forest of Arden where time stands still.

"I thought that playing a role would be a challenge in my old age," said Betty Hanson Lehman who plays a faithful old servant who follows his master to the Forest of Arden. Her last role was Alma in the "Music Man" in the late 1990s for Bemidji Community Theater, and she hasn't been on stage since that time.

"I think I will have fun doing this," she offered.

Sarah Einerson, who plays the banished Duke and Rosalind's father said, "This isn't the first time I've played a man! "

Einerson, whom some may know as executive director of Churches United in Bemidji, is well known as an actor and director and has appeared in many productions at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Bemidji Community Theater and Long Lake Theater.

Belleveau has edited the play to make it more understandable to today's theater goers in that she has replaced arcane language with modern equivalents and speeded up the pace of the play.

Diane Pittman, a physician in the emergency room at North Country Regional Hospital, hasn't been in a play since grade school and was recruited by Belleveau.

"I love to recite poetry, and I am very excited because I get to do, 'All the World's a Stage' in my role as Jacques a melancholy lord," she said. "It is interesting to play a role because it gives you a chance to delve into yourself as well as the character as you develop the part. I would like to tell people not to be afraid of Shakespeare because it's going to be so accessible, his language flows in a way that we can all understand. Shakespeare was written for the masses, for the people, and there will be something in there that you'll grab hold of."

A newcomer to Bemidji, Gretchen Larson decided to do the play because she wanted to get involved in theater.

Other familiar faces from young teens to seniors complete the cast. The leading roles are played by three young actors who drove the 1,600 miles from New York City to Bemidji to appear in the play. They are all Bennington College classmates of Genevieve Belleveau, a graduate of Bemidji High School.

The play is recommended for teens and up and will last for approximately two hours with one intermission.