Gender-neutral ‘As You Like It’ at UIC Theatre

UIC Theatre production of "As You Like It"

UIC’s “As You Like It” moves from court to forest on one set.

In Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” gender-bending is a crucial plot device.

In a production at the UIC Theatre, Chicago- and Los Angeles-based director Dado energizes the work with more gender-bending, plus unconventional singing, an abstract set, and some twists on the characters.

“I didn’t worry about gender in roles. I just try to be open and sensitive to who spoke to the roles. I’m good at building an ensemble, figuring out who’s going to fit,” Dado said.

“I’ve brought a lot of transparencies into this production. When Rosalind turns into Gannymede, you see it happen on stage.”

The director, whom a Chicago Tribune critic called “always provocative,” also cast some actors who are not singers in singing roles because the characters are in the heady, early stages of romance.

“The more I worked with it, the more I realized this is a very musical play. So I warned them they’d have to do some bad singing, because when you’re in love, you sing anyway,” she said. “It takes courage to sing badly.”

Dado recruited Mike Durst, her fellow ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre, to design the set and lighting. Durst suspended dozens of sheer white umbrellas from the UIC Theatre’s high ceiling to shine lights through them, giving an abstract impression of flying birds or a forest canopy.

“They can be lit in fascinatingly different ways. They can move up and down and change the topography of the ceiling,” Dado said.

“We gave the floor a neutral texture to capture that light. I didn’t want an idyllic forest. We’re using the existing infrastructure so we can go from the court to the forest of Arden.”

This is Dado’s second play at UIC. She directed “Full Circle” in 2012.

“I still collaborate with those students, because they’re fearless and savvy,” she said. “I adore UIC students. They’re mentally diverse. They’re not necessarily in a conservatory mindset. They’ll try anything.”

Yasen Peyankov, head of UIC’s acting program and a Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member, says he has worked with Dado since the ’90s.

“I am a big fan of her work, both as a director and as an actor,” he said. “Dado usually chooses little-known plays that deal with some kind of cracked human condition and makes them uncomfortably real, in your face, in a hold-no-prisoners way. Shakespeare’s plays have endured through six centuries precisely because they often reflect on our own cracked humanity.”

“As You Like It” will be performed at the UIC Theatre, 1044 W Harrison St., on Nov. 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 15 and 22 at 2 p.m.; and Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. (school matinee). Paid parking is available next door in a UIC garage.

After the Nov. 19 performance, Dado and theatre critic Jonathan Abarbenel will lead a panel discussion titled, “How do YOU like it? Gender performance and good vs. bad in governance.”

Tickets are $17, or $12 for college students and $5 for high school students with valid ID. They may be purchased online or at the box office at (312) 996-2939.