AS YOU LIKE IT
June 26, 2012
Trees shoot up in front, mirrored by even larger trees in back. Which ones are wrought by nature, and which by set designer John Lee Beatty? It’s a mind teaser along with the rest of the running jokes in Shakespeare’s bucolic comedy, “As You Like It.” The fine Shakespearean actress Lily Rabe (Rosalind) leads the thespian tribe rounded out at the top by her heart’s choice Orlando (David Furr), a foreboding philosopher Jacques (Stephen Spinella) and complicated court jester Touchstone (Oliver Platt).
Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the actors clearly and deliberately enunciate every single word. That makes for clarity, but it also adds drag to the lilting Elizabethan meter. In an odd twist, the imminently danceable bluegrass musical meter composed by Steve Martin suits the 19th century American South setting while simultaneously harking back to Elizabethan jigs.
Only minutes after meeting and melting over Rosalind, the fair wrestler Oralndo flees from his oppressive brother’s murderous intentions. In short order, another venal character, Duke Frederick (the convincing Andre Braugher) expels Rosalind from court, forcing his daughter-- Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry)—to accompany her lifelong friend’s flight into the woods.
At this point, the forest of Arden is crawling with court refugees, lovers, clowns, sages and rustic folk. Dressed as a young page (Gannymede) Rosalind is accosted by pitiable, rhyming love letters littering tree trunks by the lovesick Orlando. Although not well disguised as a boy in Jane Greenwood’s costume, Rosalind fools Orlando and invites him to practice his wooing techniques on her. Summoned daily, the most convincing moment surfaces when Orlando is delayed, and Rosalind despairs.
Two equally contrasting characters supply a humorous boost, Platt as the thinking fool, Touchstone and the marvelously natural Spinella as the existential philosopher, monk-like loner Jacques. This production basks in the production’s playful serendipity and goodness barely touching on the thorny, darker issues of power lust, urban greed and brutality.
“As You Like It” crowns the Public Theater’s 50th anniversary of service to the theater community and citizens of NYC. Doggedly intent on heightening theatrical literacy, Joseph Papp’s vision and legacy famously resonates in Jacques soulful soliloquy:
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts….”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis