As You Like It
The Public Theater celebrates five decades at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park with Shakespeare in the Park’s first seasonal offering, As You Like It . This gender-bending tale of love and filial betrayal is set in the forest as part of the theater’s move toward presenting a season of rustic classics, followed as it is by Stephen Sondheim’s "Into the Woods."
The impressive set featured a rough-hewn log fort, trees and rocks and peeled back to reveal a campfire and a forest. The musical accompaniment was rendered via bluegrass banjos, guitars and mandolins, and was composed by banjo virtuoso Steve Martin. Adding in the background story of two brothers at odds with each other, and a thwarted love affair, the effect was much more "Hatfields & McCoys" than anything the Globe Theater ever staged.
The pastoral comedy of "As You Like It" features the heroine, Rosalind, who flees persecution in her uncle’s court by heading to the Forest of Arden with her cousin Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. Disguised as a man, she finds love in Orlando, who is also fleeing his evil older brother, Oliver.
As Ganymede, she plays out the courtship with Orlando, who litters the forest with love poems for Rosalind. The two eventually find love, along with Celia, Touchstone and the shepherd Silvius. Orlando saves his brother Oliver from a lion, causing him to repent, and Duke Frederick finds religion, restoring his legitimate brother to the dukedom.
The handsome David Furr plays the role of Orlando, and is fine in the part of a brash, young noble who craves the education and noblesse that his older brother keeps from him. His fights with the stocky Charles the Wrestler show his moxy, and his loyalty to Adam (Macintyre Dixon), his trusty old servant, in the face of starvation mark him as steady and true.
When his brother burns his house down, Orlando heads to the forest, where his love for Rosalind is given full reign. It is here that the famed, "All the world’s a stage" speech is spoken.
But the real kudos go squarely to Lily Rabe as Rosalind/Ganymede. Whether clad in her brocade dress or in breeches, she is a stunner, with long legs and a brash demeanor that allow her to convincingly pass as a young man.
Rabe’s flawless, fleet delivery of the lion’s share of the play’s dialogue, combined with her honest and emotive physical carriage, was nothing short of perfection. Although all of the talented actors in the cast held their own, somehow Rabe’s performance still managed to overshadow them, and at the same time lift them higher. By the play’s end, this critic was half in love with Rabe for her jaunty, gender-bending portrayal of Ganymede.
Rosalind’s cousin Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry) renames herself Aliena, and joins her in exile, for, "And wheresoever we went, like Juno’s swans, Still we went coupled." The two flee to the forest, where they search for escape, but find love.
Oliver Platt does a very fine job as Touchstone the fool, presenting the character of this mismatched, lusty sot very well. As fools often do, he speaks truth in quotes like, "The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." Platt taps into the adult child vibe he rode in "Huff," and it serves him well here.
The players in the Forest of Arden prove prone to a hootenanny, giving ample opportunity for Mr. Martin’s music to be profiled. Around the campfire, they pledged fealty to each other, as Orlando finds he is among friends.
When Ganymede convinces him to practice his wooing of Rosalind on him, things become very interesting. This "saucy knave" seems to fall deeply into the young lad as a substitute lover, creating a thrilling homosocial construct between the two "men."
In the end, Ganymede arranges for everyone to be with the one they are meant to marry, and Rosalind and Orlando are wed, Celia takes her man, Touchstone marries his filthy wench, and Phoebe concedes her fidelity to the love-struck Silvius.
Rosalind brings the play to close with an epilogue on its merits for both men and women, and all will agree, the play offers something for everyone. And with the tickets free to anyone willing to stand in the lengthy line for them, the price is certainly right.
With the beautiful backdrop of the Belvedere Castle, the Delacorte Theater is a lovely location for al fresco theater. But swarms of gnats surrounded the actors, undaunted by swooping bats, and when the sun set, the wind off the water was very cool. Be advised; bring some bug spray and a sweater for ultimate comfort.
"As You Like It" runs through June 30 at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park, enter at 81st Street and Central Park West. For info or tickets, visit shakespeareinthepark.org/