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A CurtainUp Review
As You Like It
by Les Gutman
One benchmark of the popularity of As You Like It is the frequency with which it has been reviewed by CurtainUp -- this will be our seventh review of the play (the previous entries are linked below). It's hard to imagine a production, however, that's a more natural a fit in its environment than this one. Once the action moves from the city to the Forest of Arden, Mother Nature's backdrop trumps anything even a terrific set designer could devise. (About which, more later.)
Mark Lamos' concept does not reconceive the play in a violent way, nor does he get trapped by a parade of gimmicks. Yet it's a fanciful take on the play, which seems apt since suspension of belief is a key to its enjoyment. There are pleasures to be had, but the overwhelming question with which one is left is why this production, with set designer Riccardo Hernández's map of the world underfoot and the celestial scenery overhead, feels so earthbound? By the middle of the disproportionately long second half, one can barely wait for its famously magical finalé.
One clue in support of an explanation can be found in an interview the director gave early in the run. "One of the challenges of the play" Mr. Lamos says, "is that its narrative drive all but stops an hour into it. The story actually is held in abeyance once we get to the forest of Arden." Well, yes perhaps it does, but no it cannot. Once a director stops conveying why characters do what they do, an audience quickly loses interest in following them.
Multiple wrongly or poorly cast actors are complicit in the failings of this effort. Lynn Collins, rendered almost famous in the recent film of The Merchant of Venice, is an engaging Rosalind, and one in command of Shakespeare's language. But ultimately one must conclude it's a rather hollow performance. By comparison with her Orlando (James Waterston), however, it's a masterpiece. The younger Waterston -- who indeed looks like a young version of his famous father -- is out of his league here. Neither his delivery nor his deportment suggest that he has a connection with his character. The most telling flaw in their collective work is that we leave the scene in which their magnetic attraction is activated without any sense it exists.
The two actors who seem most like fish out of water (though for acutely different reasons) are Richard Thomas as Touchstone and Brian Bedford as Jaques. Thomas, a fine dramatic actor, feverishly thrusts his comic role here into peculiar and unpleasant territory. Bedford, on the other hand, has the misfortune of being the lone actor among the major roles who performs at the level one might hope for. His performance is so good that he seems to have arrived from another planet, such that his melancholy mood seems an overlay rather than an organic aspect.
The best of the rest of the cast includes Herb Foster as Adam, Philip Kerr as Le Beau, Helmar Augustus Cooper as Corin, Michael Esper as Silvius, Jennifer Dundas as Phoebe and, at times, Jennifer Ikeda as Celia (though at others, he stridency gets the best of her.
I've always been very fond of the work I've seen from Riccardo Hernández, until now. Here, the round platform on which the aforementioned map of the cosmos has been installed has what appears to be a sundial on it. To its angles, he has installed (inexplicably) a replica of a horse and a bird. The orchard of the early scene are depicted by a handful of blue plastic trees, to which a much larger quantity of bronze plastic trees are added once the play moves into the forest. It's not clear what all of this is supposed to conjure up under any circumstance, but whatever that is, it bears no harmony with Candice Donnelly's fairy tale costumes which feature lots of bright color and men in tights. Credit lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski at least with illuminating the Park's vegetation for us.
On a more positive note, for the show's ample music (including the scoring of the play's obligatory songs, sung mostly by the very good Bob Stillman), Lamos has turned to William Finn and Vadim Feichtner, who manage to give us something enjoyable to carry home even in a show that doesn't offer a lot to hum about.
LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF AS YOU LIKE IT
Another from Berkshires
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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Go here for details and larger image.