“As You Like It”, Shakespeare’s frolic in the Forest of Arden, is one of those iron sided plays that can withstand all manner of interpretation. Call it the dude ranch trail horse of Elizabethan comedy. Director Gaye Upchurch may have an angle in mind, but it’s hard to discern in this scattered approach. But thanks to some fine performances of the cast, the story of jealousy, banishment, and foolish love emerges more or less intact.
There’s a youthful energy that keeps the rather long exposition phase from dragging down the whole play, but the first half does tend to run together in tone. Younger brother, Orlando, is banished by his cruel older brother, Oliver. Duke Senior has previously been ousted by his cruel brother Duke Frederick. And the most important pair of all, cousins Rosalind and Celia, run off to the forest because Celia’s father (the aforementioned cruel Duke Frederick) has decided to banish Rosalind.
It is in the Forest of Arden where the coupling – and therefore, the fun – begins, aided by the wit of that great Fool, Touchstone (Aaron Krohn) dressed like a ‘50s cartoon used car salesman. His running commentary on love and his opportunistic wooing of the simple, sunny-tempered shepherdess, Audrey (Kimberly Chatterjee) guarantee an uptick in the humor because, unlike everyone else running around the forest in love, there is no heartache.
Lindsay Carter is the crown jewel of the evening as the heroine Rosalind, a lively young woman of tenderness and passion. Disguised in male attire as “Ganymede”, she commands her heartthrob Orlando to woo her as if she were “his Rosalind.” Due to the random, thrift shop tenor of Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costuming choices, the absurdity of Orlando’s not being able to recognize Rosalind is even more pronounced. Lorenzo Roberts as Orlando occasionally comes through with genuine purpose, but more often lacks the strength and focus we would like to see in this role.
Antoinette Robinson as Celia is the optimum foil for her lovesick cousin. The shades of love are delicately played here; having abandoned her father out of loyalty to Rosalind, she watches with little comment as Rosalind turns the focus of her affections to Orlando who, typical of these comedies, she has met only once and doesn’t know at all. But also in typical Elizabethan fashion, Celia will be rescued by an ardent – and improbable – love at first sight.
Silvius (Brian Reisman) and Phoebe (Dani Stoller) emerge as the rustic counterparts, and Silvius is so forlorn in his love and Phoebe so dismissive that the only humor that can be visited upon them is when Phoebe falls in love with the disguised youth, Ganymede.
When it appears to me that a competent actor is being misused, I’m happy to blame the director. This is the case with Jaques, a character who is, by every account, a most dismal and solitary creature, lugubrious in the extreme and able, by his own account, to “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” So why is Tom Story allowed to blend in with the other players, no particular note of darkness about him? A character who could teach Severis Snape something about gloom has no business appearing cheerful, and this Jaques has nothing in look, manner, or delivery to distinguish him from the company.
Scene design by John McDermott keeps the stage uncluttered for quick changes and only goes for representation in the beautifully rendered three-dimensional backdrop of the forest.
In keeping with the costume design of “random-modern,” Heather Christian’s original music, too, ranges from Renaissance inspired to beat-box – with no particular objection here, for it’s all in keeping with the moment. That playfulness comes to the fore especially in the second half with frequent inclusions and acknowledgements of the audience. Alexandra Beller’s choreography accentuates the underlying joyfulness of youth and love, and in the end wins us over to the ever-popular happy ending.
Maggie Lawrence is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She is a retired English and drama teacher.
WANT TO GO?
What: “As You Like It”
Where: Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, Washington, D.C.
Call: (202) 544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu/theatre
Playing through March 5