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A CurtainUp Review
The Bridge Project's As You Like It / The Bridge Project
Perhaps because I had recently read an interview with renowned voice teacher Cicely Berry as conducted by Scott Ellis in American Theatre Magazine, I was intent on focusing on the sounds and rhythms given to a Shakespeare text. It only took minutes into the play for me to know I was in the company of actors who were completely at home and at one with the lilting language.
If dirty political doings get the play going, they are only an excuse for a masquerading Rosalind to win the easily duped Orlando; the devoted Celia to beguile the wicked Oliver; the "roynish" Touchstone to seduce the provocative Audrey; and the disdainful Phoebe to settle for the lovesick Silvius. Far be it from me to say whether or not they will all be united in wedded bliss before it is time for us to go home.
There is ample use of music in the forest for both singing and dancing and it is well done. In addition to the two musicians (each perched in a box), there are the traditional songs as sung by the band of exiles. This balances the affixed mood of melancholy that defines the cynical Jaques (Stephen Dillane) who, nevertheless, is ready to whip out and play his harmonica to everyone's amazement. As for his "seven ages of man" lecture, Dillane can be commended for delivering it with a gentle and disarming modesty.
What envelops this production is the stage chock full of warm, amusing and winning characters. The lovers and other strangers have both the humor and the philosophy of the play to uphold. Christian Camargo, who was so good last season as George Deever in All My Sons, is an appropriately trim and good-looking Orlando. His feisty performance is also notable for his kick-boxing, an exhibition that helps to put the first twinkle in Rosalind's eye. This early scene in which Orlando takes on Charles (Ron Cephas Jones) the court wrestler is a real slam-bang bout.
The show essentially belongs to the masquerading Rosalind. Juliet Rylance is vivacious and radiant as the by-love-possessed daughter of the banished Duke. Michelle Beck is similarly beguiling as her cousin and devoted friend. What a pleasure it is not to tire of the antics of court jester Touchstone who here, as wittily portrayed by Thomas Sadowsky, is a most affable and wise fellow. Sadowski, who was so memorable in last season's reasons to be pretty, may have had a hard time keeping his red clown nose affixed (it fell off and rolled across the stage at the performance I saw), but he never faltered in his hot pursuit of the amusingly sluttish country wench Audrey, as played in a high-pitched squeaky-voice by Jenni Barber.
Good impressions are made by Edward Bennett as Orlando's very bad older brother Oliver and Michael Thomas as the noble and banished Duke Senior. Alvin Epstein is touching as Adam, Orlando's faithful old servant. A zaftig Ashlie Atkinson has fun with her role as the shepherdess Phoebe who cannot help deriding the love-sick Silvius (Aaron Kron).
Although purists may object to the lack of the usually obligatory greenwood tree, the world created by set designer Tom Piper is otherwise notable for its effective simplicity. For the first scenes, we don't see much more than a floor of wooden planks, the wall of a stone fortress, a few small windows, a doorway, and a woodpile. The wall does rise for the action in the Forest of Arden where swamp grass grows densely and a few barren trees dot the landscape. This may infer that it is a bit bleak, and it is. . .that is until the finale when the trees are festooned with glowing paper lanterns.
Happily there is nothing bleak about Mendes' staging. As the artistic director of The Bridge Project (he also directed last year's productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale) he has taken great care to see that these "country copulations" are no less than exuberantly entertaining affairs. As You Like It will play in repertory with The Tempest beginning February 25.