Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: As You Like It

Review | Shakespeare’s As You Like It | Directed by John Doyle | Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, Long Island

…  without enchantment …

As You Like It is a wonderful play so that, even with this disappointing production, it’s not a wasted evening.  The language is so powerful and some of the scenes so funny that they surpass the flat interpretations they receive here, and in particular two actors —  André de Shields and Leenya Rideout – are satisfyingly perfect!

But all in all, this is an As You Like It without enchantment.

The play rests on a contrast between life at court with its envies, intrigues, and self-protection and, as Shakespeare envisioned it, life in the magical Forest of Arden, free and close to nature.  In these ways it’s like Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We spend just enough time at court to learn that the younger son, Frederick has usurped the right of his older brother, Duke Senior, to the duchy and sent him into exile.  While Frederick tolerated having Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, around for a while, the play begins as he sends her into exile, too, shortly after she and Orlando briefly meet and fall in love at first sight.  The Forest of Arden (think Eden) quickly fills up as Rosalind flees there along with her beloved cousin Celia who is Frederick’s child, and with them Touchstone the court fool.  And — as Shakespeare’s wonderful chance would have it – Orlando, sent away by his mean, jealous older brother, heads there too.

It should be easy for Rosalind and Orlando to discover one another in Arden and enjoy their love, right?  Wrong.  Because Rosalind disguises herself as a young man, and takes on the name “Ganymede,” so that when Orlando, love-sick over that very Rosalind, meets up with her, he believes she is the young man she appears to be.  And she doesn’t disabuse him.  She’s also in love but — coy? testing? seeking experience? ambivalent?  — sticks to her disguise as Ganymede.  She doesn’t let him off the hook, though.  Instead, Rosalind says she will allow Orlando to woo “Ganymede” as if she were Rosalind, and the young man agrees to play the game — to act at wooing the person he believes is a young man.  With this game, Rosalind/Ganymede claims she can cure Orlando of being in love, while she gets to be wooed by the man she loves.

At any rate, the situation in which Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando play the courtship game with a her as a him and he doesn’t know it opens up the play to hilarity, suspense, and gorgeous love poetry.

Their impassioned if eccentric romance is only one of the wonders in Arden, Shakespeare’s characters being among the greatest wonders of all.  As so often, the fool has some of deepest insight.  Touchstone, played by the actor, dancer, and man of theater André de Shields, lets us sense the truths that lie behind his sprightly mask, dancing away with a jester’s wariness when his hits come too close to home. He speaks his lines with strength and clarity and lets us hear all the poetry.  He fairly dances his way through the part and is fascinating to watch as his movements express his character and emotions.  His costume is a witty combination of argyle and knickers in keeping with the more or less modern (1950’s ?) costuming of the play by Ann Hould Ward.  De Shields is the most powerful presence on stage.

Among the denizens of Arden is another of Shakespeare’s great characters, Jacques, the melancholy courtier.  The award winning actress Ellen Burstyn plays the role, and while it’s impressive to see her move herself to tears by the end of the tragic monolog on the ages of man (“All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players…” ), her thin voice , here and elsewhere, is at odds with the depth of the character and resonance of the language.

A special feature of this production is that the very well-known composer and writer for musical theater, Stephen Schwartz has written music for it.  The nearest to enchantment in this production’s mundane Forest of Arden is when Phoebe, the shepherdess, circles the stage with her solo violin, playing insinuatingly lovely Schwartz music, all the more because Phoebe  is played by the enchanting actress Leenya Rideout.

The easy listening jazz grooves well with the theme of freedom in the forest, and when the ensemble comes together to sing it radiates a sense of joy.  It’s pleasant to listen to Bob Stillman, who plays Duke Frederick and Duke Sr., performing cocktail bar music at the spinet on stage.  The idea of setting Shakespeare’s songs and song-like passages to music is a wished for and welcome idea.  At most times, though, when there is singing, solo or ensemble, the words can’t be heard well or fully understood, and when it comes to Shakespeare, you don’t have to be a “purist” to want to hear all of the words.

Beyond those I’ve mentioned, others of the performers are able and others need more experience.  As for “chemistry” between these famous lovers, Rosalind and Orlando, you won’t find it here.

The set design is somewhat experimental.  The backdrop looks like a wall of red bricks, as if we’re in a theater without a set – not a forest for sure, but perhaps an interesting element for teasing the relationship between illusion and reality which is a theme of the play. The main design features, however, are many globular lights above the stage that, at certain points, change color, but the overall effect is not enchanting but, unfortunately, barren.

As You Like It plays at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through September 3, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Review | Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Sylvester Manor Windmill | Performances July 16 and 17 | Directed by Sarah Hankins | Green Theatre Collective, Shelter Island, Long Island

… the Forest of Arden …

What could be better than circling the fruitful fields of Sylvester Manor’s Community Supported Agriculture farm to arrive at the windmill, sitting on the verdant grass, and in this idyllic, mid-summer setting watching a beautiful production of Shakespeare’s great pastoral comedy performed by talented and idealistic actors of the Green Theatre Collective?

Nothing could be better.

We wait for the play to begin, some people nibbling the organic crudités and sipping wine. A thin cord rests on the top of the bouncy grass, marking the “edge of the stage.” Are those the actors seated — like ourselves — on picnic blankets on either side of the windmill?

Melanie Closs as Amiens. Background L: audience;  R: actors Photo: Robert J. Ruben

Melanie Closs as Amiens. Background L: audience;  R: actors Photo: Robert J. Ruben

A nature spirit appears — Amiens, played alluringly by Melanie Closs, moves in and around singing the gentle, insinuating “Come Hither.”  You bet!

Orlando, persecuted and cheated out of his inheritance by his older brother Oliver, flees with his faithful servant Adam, first having fallen in love with Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior.  Duke Frederick, who usurped his older brother, the good Duke Senior, but had allowed Rosalind to stay in his court since she was his daughter’s, Celia’s, friend, but still hating her as her father’s daughter, now throws out Rosalind, who has fallen in love with Orlando;  her dear friend Celia, and the Jester Touchstone accompany her into banishment.  Rosalind goes disguised as a young man, “Ganymede,” and Celia, disguised as a poor lady, takes on the name Aliena to suit, as she says, her current situation.

All these loving, free spirits find their way to the Forest of Arden where, it happens, the exiled Duke has also found his way, living with some retainers. Tragedy ends in death, and comedy in marriage: this is a comedy and it ends in several marriages, but not before the course of true love has many chances to be confounded.

If you had any doubts about whether there’s such a thing as love at first sight, you’ll know for sure when Hal Flickett as Orlando is literally struck dumb, head over heels in love with Rosalind, his hands straining to convey to her the words of his ardor, locked in by his overwhelming passion.

Jessica Glannone as Rosalind matches his at first sight passion with her own, and holds it through the hilarious scenes where, she entrains him in her Ganymede disguise to woo her in the forest  “as if I were Rosalind”; she also plays Audrey, a country girl with a country style.

Seven actors play many parts (as all of us do, as Shakespeare reminds us in this play). Since Close and Flickett play one and Glannone two, the other four actors are kept really busy — shifting with skill and speed among characters, mood and — from palace to forest — locale.  It was fascinating to see David Gautschy switch — by slipping off his vest — from the nasty older brother Oliver to the poetic, free associating Fool Touchstone;  can this really be the same man!? Gautschy expressed all the poetic nuance and suggestive liberation of one of Shakespeare’s great Fools who convey a sense of depth that just won’t let you go.

Brendan Boland brought an outstanding quality of intelligence and weight to Jacques, whose melancholy provides a leaven to the idyllic fantasy of As You Like It. Boland brought to the famous “Seven Ages of Man” passage a passion equal, in its way, to that of the lovers — and by “sans everything” he had moved me to tears.

Gina Rivera was dynamic as the humorous, tough-minded Delia, a foil to the romantic Rosalind. It was touching that she played Adam the old servant as lame and weak-kneed while having a dancer’s freedom of movement:  free and in the forest, she came up with some heart-lifting light dance steps and a terrific cartwheel expressive of the buoyancy and joie de vivre of the play.

David Shaw was especially busy in terms of sheer number – five distinct characters and speaking parts. I especially enjoyed him as Charles the Wrestler in the scene where, as a strong man, he’s bested by the underdog Orlando.

In today’s NY Times (07/18/ll) Charles Isherwood, commented about the Royal Shakespeare Company productions in NYC,  “… these are among the most consistently clear Shakespeare stagings I’ve seen, at least in term of simple intelligibility.” The same can certainly be said of the Green Theatre Collective’s “As You Like It” – and they were acting with the acoustics of the great outdoors and the wind in the trees! I never missed a word — or a joke, or an idea. The gorgeous language was completely accessible – for the time, the language of Shakespeare, of the actors, and of the audience was all one.

It was a privilege and a joy to see Shakespeare so well and so appropriately performed. Thanks to Sylvester Manor Farm for extending itself in the direction of the arts, and bringing this play our way. I’m greatly looking forward the Green Theatre Collective’s future performances.

So far this summer this traveling troupe has played As You Like It in Maudsley State in Newburyport, Massachusetts, at the Musical Pagoda in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, and at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, Long Island, NY.

Green Theatre Collective will perform the play at Franklin Stage Company, Franklin, NY, on July 23 and 24.

Taking a curtain call -- with not a curtain in sight ...  L-R Melanie Closs, Hal Fickett, David Shaw, Jessica Glannone, Gina Rivera, David Gautschy, Brendan Boland.  Photo:  Robert J. Ruben

Taking a curtain call — with not a curtain in sight …  L-R Melanie Closs, Hal Fickett, David Shaw, Jessica Glannone, Gina Rivera, David Gautschy, Brendan Boland.  Photo:  Robert J. Ruben

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