Here’s a mini-history lesson to go along with Daniel Sullivan’s marvelous new staging of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a perfect fit for the Public’s annual Shakespeare in the Park presentation (now celebrating its 50th anniversary): it comes on the heels of several underwhelming neutered versions of the Bard’s work. Last year’s All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure felt more like a formality, a resume checklist, than an invigorating resuscitation of Shakespeare’s work, despite following an angrily potent revival of The Merchant of Venice that transferred to Broadway. While a transfer doesn’t seem likely for Like, it nonetheless restates the Public’s reputation for breathing new life into these five-hundred year-old plays. Sullivan’s revival of this comedy about conflict resolution and secret lives gets the treatment it deserves, and even manages to touch hearts along the way.
Sullivan is aided in this adaptation, now set in the nineteenth-century American South, immeasurably by a top-notch cast led by Lily Rabe, late of Merchant, who has proven to be one of the current great interpreters of Shakespeare, in addition to being a wonderful stage talent in general. She is Rosalind, who flees to the woods of Arden with cousin Celia (Renee Elise-Goldsberry) after Celia’s father, Duke Frederick (Andre Braugher), banishes them from his court. The two disguise themselves – Celia as an unattractive woman named Aliena and Rosalind as a man named Ganymede, which complicates her semi-requited crush on Orlando (David Furr).
Further entangling this web are Silvius (Will Rogers), pining for Phoebe (Susannah Flood), who has fallen in love with Ganymede, and the bawdy jesters Touchstone and Audrey, embodied to perfection by Oliver Platt and Donna Lynne Champlin, respectively. Stephen Spinella adds wisdom to the hectic proceedings as philosopher Jacques as well. All of the actors acquit themselves nicely, though I wish the spirited Goldsberry wasn’t forced to spend quite so much time hiding on the ground. Two actors emerge as particularly noteworthy in this production: Rabe, who from her first speech to her final breathlessly emotive epilogue portrays the agony and ecstasy of lovelorn optimism, and Rogers, who communicates all of Silvius’ disappointments and relief with spot-on physicality that never once overshadows his fellow actors.
Another set of performers must also be saluted here: the onstage band who transform Like into a lively three-hour hoedown thanks to comedy icon Steve Martin’s bluegrass compositions. The clarion work of Tashina Claridge (fiddle), Jordan Tice (guitar), Tony Trischka (banjo), and Skip Ward (bass) textures the show in ways even Shakespeare’s poetry cannot. Additionally, John Lee Beatty’s very green set makes for the perfect forest, one that brims with the birth of new love and also provides plenty of places for those who fear its admission to hide.
As You Like It
Tags: 81 street, All's well that ends well, andre beaugher, as you like it, browady, Central Park, Central Park West, daniel sullivan, Delacorte Theater, donna lynne champlin, ganymede, measure for mearue, oliver platt, renee elise-goldsberry, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in the Park, stephen spinella, susannah flood, the Bard, the merchant of venice, the Public, will rogers
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