By Robbie Harold
When she brought her teenage son to audition for Plainfield Little Theatre’s 2016 production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well, Sorsha Anderson impulsively decided to try out for a part herself. Anderson previously had a professional acting career in New York and San Francisco, but hadn’t been on the stage in ten years. Director Tom Blachly cast her as the Countess in that production, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Anderson stars in Blanchy’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, playing heroine Rosalind. The play opens at the Plainfield Opera House on February 13.
“I never thought I’d get to play her,” Anderson said. “I’m older than those typically cast in the role. I was of two minds about the auditions: one, ‘What are you thinking, at your age?’ and two, there’s a double standard in theater—men step out of their age range all the time—so here’s one for us gals!”
Professionally and in community theater, Anderson has performed as many of the Bard’s great leading ladies, including Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet, Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lady Macbeth and, most recently, Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Anderson noted that while Portia (Merchant) has a fierce, thoughtful intelligence, Rosalind in As You Like It has “energy—she’s a force of nature—and positive imagination. You can’t keep her down.”
Rosalind, and those playing her, face numerous challenges. As Shakespeare’s longest female role, the plot calls for Rosalind, when she flees to the Forest of Arden, to disguise herself as Ganymede, a young man. “You risk vocal burnout,” Anderson says, “especially when trying to adopt a male-sounding voice without sounding buffoonish.”
Another acting challenge is “keeping it grounded as a woman’s attempt at passing herself off as a male,” Anderson noted. “The line between Rosalind and Ganymede fades over time. You can relax a bit after a while, but you’re always working to find the balance. I’m looking forward to adding costumes!”
Why doesn’t Rosalind quit her Ganymede disguise as soon as she meets her beloved Orlando in the forest? It’s a frequent question among critics and play-goers. As Anderson sees it, Rosalind blossoms as Ganymede, and keeps the disguise because of the creative joy and freedom she finds in the male identity; a freedom not available to women in the Tudor era. In her disguise, Anderson said, Rosalind can safely teach Orlando (Richard Littauer, Bassanio in last year’s Merchant production) what marriage will really be like. The “real” Rosalind is challenging and capricious; a far cry from the docile beauty her suitor’s lovesick poetry suggests.
Shakespeare creates another challenge in the relationship between Rosalind and cousin Celia (Pollaidh Major, Jessica in last year’s Merchant). At the start of the play they are close, and very much equals—Never two ladies loved as they do—but when Rosalind falls in love with Orlando and flees with Celia into the forest, things change. “The Celia relationship fades as the one with Orlando grows,” Anderson said. “We’re working hard to keep that bond of companionship between them—Shakespeare makes that hard, because, many think, he’s fallen in love with Rosalind himself.”
Some critics view Rosalind as so dominating that Orlando seems unworthy of her love. Anderson disagreed. “Orlando and Rosalind are well matched. He has a ton of native intelligence, although he’s been denied an education by his brother,” Anderson explained. “Early on, Rosalind watches him as he battles wits with Jaques. He’s more than a match for Jaques [local stage veteran David Klein], which makes him a worthy companion for her—even if his poetry’s awful.”
While some view As You Like It as a comparatively lightweight Shakespeare play with lots of talk but not much action, Anderson noted that “It’s the most fun to watch. The witty word-play between Rosalind, Celia, Orlando, and Jaques is highly entertaining.
“I hope what comes across is all the magic in the play,” she added. “As in Midsummer, unexpected things happen in the forest—but here people’s words and actions, not fairies, create the magic.”
For Anderson, another magical element is “the group of actors in this production who’ve worked together for years now. Special things happen because we trust one another. When I see a play and the actors are enjoying themselves and one another as this group does, I come away happy.”
Since her return to the stage, Anderson hasn’t taken much downtime. This summer she’ll play Mistress Page in Vermont Shakespeare Company’s Merry Wives of Windsor in July, and Vladimir in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at Unadilla Theatre in August.
As You Like It plays at the Plainfield Opera House on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 13 and 14 at 7 pm, on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 2 pm and 7 pm, Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 20–22 at 7 pm, and Sunday, Feb. 23 at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 general admission, available by calling 426-3384 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.