The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0265 Monday, 25 June 2012
Date: Monday, June 25, 2012
Subject: Shakespeare in the Park: As You Like It
[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from Thursday’s New York Times. –Hardy]
Central Park, a Forest of Ardor
‘As You Like It,’ With Lily Rabe in Central Park
June 21, 2012
Central Park, a Forest of Ardor
The Public Theater celebrates 50 years of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater this summer. By all rights the city’s theater lovers should be showering the company with bouquets, and in a sense they do, day after day, summer after summer, snapping up the free tickets to this cherished New York institution whether the clouds threaten rain or the mosquitoes swarm.
In grateful response the Public has given the city its own celebratory gift by mounting an absolutely smashing production of “As You Like It” that exemplifies the virtues of Shakespeare in the Park at its best — warmth, vigor, accessibility and lucidity — and also proves to be the funniest and most rewarding production of this rich, complicated comedy that I have yet seen.
This is not entirely an unforeseen triumph. The director, Daniel Sullivan, has established himself as perhaps the most reliably fine Shakespeare interpreter in New York. His “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” for Shakespeare in the Park were both superb. And the luminous Lily Rabe, who rose to stage stardom as Portia opposite Al Pacino’s Shylock, returns as an enchanting Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most challenging and rewarding female roles.
The production is set in the 19th-century American South, the better to accommodate the wonderful bluegrass-flavored score — dominated by the jovial twang of a banjo — composed by Steve Martin. (Yes, that Steve Martin, taking a break from movie starring, novel writing and art buying.) On a lush set by John Lee Beatty that invites the surrounding foliage from Central Park to take a turn onstage, the comedy’s high spirits and its undertone of melancholy are kept in perfect balance. Mr. Sullivan also weaves together the busy welter of subplots with uncommon dexterity, resulting in a satisfying tapestry depicting love in all its wonder and surprise, its breathtaking highs and its despairing lows.
The irrational impulses that often guide human behavior are in full rein as the play begins, although the accent is on the implacable nature of ill feeling. Orlando (David Furr) is bridling under his humiliating treatment at the hands of his older brother, Oliver (Omar Metwally). In the comedy’s first hint of the heart’s fickle nature, Oliver himself cannot adequately divine the sources of his enmity. “My soul — I know not why — hates nothing more than he,” he wonderingly confesses, even as he plots to have Orlando killed.
No more sensible is the sudden twist of feeling that inspires Duke Frederick (Andre Braugher, expertly doubling as the good Duke Senior) to banish Rosalind from the court he has usurped from her father, despite the lifelong affection between Rosalind and his daughter, Celia (a tart, appealing Renee Elise Goldsberry).
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Ms. Rabe’s Rosalind moves from playful to profound, from stern taskmaster to heartsick ingénue, so nimbly that the transitions continually catch you by surprise. After one of the comic tutorials in which Ganymede-as-Rosalind tries to mock Orlando out of his unyielding affection, Ms. Rabe falls to her knees in a sudden rush of feeling. In testing his love she is really plumbing the depths of her own, and what she discovers leaves her trembling with anxiety at how deeply her heart is engaged.
Mr. Furr, seen in the Roundabout’s excellent “Importance of Being Earnest” last year, is likewise a superb Shakespearean actor. His Orlando exudes an ardent confidence in the truth of his feeling that makes him a formidable foil for Ganymede’s prickly taunting and, more important, a steadfast lover for Rosalind when she finally drops the pretense at the jubilant conclusion.
Playing in counterpoint to the games between Rosalind and Orlando are three other love matches sprouting at different paces amid the Arden greenery. Oliver Platt gives the evening’s most robustly funny performance as Touchstone, the quick-tongued fool whom Rosalind and Celia have brought along to ease the hardship of their life away from court.
Scorning Orlando’s versifying — in a delicious touch he wipes his mouth with one of the poems he snatches from a tree trunk — Mr. Platt’s rumbustious wooing of the nearly speechless goatherd Audrey (an unrecognizably dirt-besmirched Donna Lynne Champlin) is a fun-house version of the talky romance between their betters.
The unrequited love of the shepherd Silvius (an affectingly forlorn Will Rogers) for the shepherdess Phoebe (Susannah Flood) shows the wayward path of Cupid’s arrows in another comic light, when a single glimpse of Ganymede leaves Phoebe ready to pen her own moony tributes to her new amour.
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All this romantic romping merely inspires raised eyebrows and wry bemusement from the play’s famous cynic, Jaques, portrayed with a quiet dignity and understated melancholy by Stephen Spinella. His farewell to the happy couples united in the play’s celebratory finale is admirably free of rancor and cynicism — or, for that matter, melancholy. Mr. Spinella’s Jaques merely prefers thinking to dancing, and marches quietly off in search of more cerebral food.
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