Now playing at the Folger Theatre, a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch and produced in association with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, is sure to wet your literary chops.
Shakespeare’s language rarely sounds this articulate and authentic. You will listen with delight to every word, to every phrase, as its meaning and intent ring clearly in your ears.
There’s singing too, plenty of it, with guitars and other noise makers. A piano is even rolled on stage for one number.
And the characters, oh so identifiable! A lively mix of modern archetypes, the urbanites versus the country hicks joust in endless wordplay.
And given the election news of late, city versus middle America couldn’t help but come to mind on one occasion or two.
For Shakespeare, city dweller that he be, the forest is always where the craziest love erupts. Among those animals lover can turn-on-a-dime, shifting from jerk or bitch to sweet heart or egalitarian. And in this production, those shifts are on full display.
The pared down storyline (if you aren’t familiar with As You Like It reading a synopsis will help) highlights the four sets of lovers: their verbal antics in the name of passion and lust are what this play boasts of.
Wit and wisdom in all matters of love and lovelessness as the heroine Rosalind (a giddy Lindsay Alexandra Carter) is exiled to the forest by a meany Duke (a stern Allen McCullough).
Lucky for her, however, the forest is also where her in-lovedness man, Orlando (played exuberantly by Lorenzo Roberts), has also had to flee. He’s not been shooed by the Duke but by his brother, the priggish Oliver (and Michael Glenn does an excellent job making him a real, inexplicable jerk).
And we don’t really need to know why Rosalind dresses as a man when she ventures into the woods (a woman travelling alone in those parts wouldn’t be safe), or why her thin disguise (she wears pants) fools even Orlando, the man who is head-over-heals in love with her, so much so that he literally litters the forest with his foul verse.
Rosalind’s friend, Celia (a forthright Antoinette Robinson) follows her into that dangerous forest, dressed like a country woman named Aliena. Again, the fact that she doesn’t really change her appearance in any significant way doesn’t make a bit of difference.
We don’t even mind when Oliver later shows up in the forest as well and suddenly and inexplicably falls in love with Aliena. We should stand up and beg her to see him for the murderer he really is. But we don’t care, because this story is but an excuse for lovers doing what lovers do best in Shakespeare’s wooded world: turn inside out and top side over.
Then there is Touchstone, the clown (played with true schoolboy prankishness by Aaron Krohn). When he seduces the country girl and goat herder Audrey (if Kimberly Chatterjee made her any simpler in her character Touchstone’s seduction would be a crime), we should have sympathy for her, screaming don’t fall for his city ways. But we don’t, even though he is quite false in his intent and plans to dump the poor girl soon after he has his way with her.
The fact that he ends the play a bit more earnest in his treatment of the lady, redeems him ever so slightly in our eyes.
The fourth and final set of lovers is the country couple, Silvius (an eager to please Brian Reisman) and Pheobe (a conniving Dani Stoller). These lovers have always been my favorite, as the uncomfortable lover’s triangle that emerges when Pheobe falls for the whippersnapper Ganymede, Rosalind in drag, is one of Shakespeare’s best constructions.
With these lover’s wit on full display, the other aspects of the tale slip somewhat into the background. We do not concern ourselves with why anything is happening, for what is happening becomes little more than an excuse for a lovers’ rendezvous in the wood.
This, of course, leaves melancholic Jaques, (a sassy Tom Story), out in the cold, so to speak.
The rest of the cast includes Cody Wilson as Dennis and William, Daven Ralston as Musician and ensemble member, Will Hayes as the wrestler Charles, and Jeff Keogh as the old servant Adam and Corin.
Each cast member does an excellent job bringing Shakespeare’s words to life.
This production is not without its visual moment, however, from a wonderful masked dance to the aforementioned litter. The finest visual highlight for me, however, were the quick scene changes from town to forest: with a flick of eye and a light change, the garb of well dressed city folk hit the stage, leaving only poorly dressed forest dwellers standing in their place.
Now that’s the magic of theatre.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
‘As You Like It’ at Folger Theatre reviewed by Wendi Winters.
In the Moment: ‘As You Like It’ at Folger Theatre by David Siegel.