As You Like It

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Beverly Bullock
Shakespeare at Love Creek
American Theatre of Actors/Sargent Theatre
314 West 54th Street, 4th fl. (212/245-7376)
Equity showcase (closes December 14)
Review by Jenny Sandman

"All the world's a stage..." -- Jaques, As You Like It

One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, As You Like It is also one of his most lighthearted. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, it is peopled with young love-stricken (occasionally cross-dressing) couples -- in this case, exiled from court -- who seek refuge in the forest. A pastoral romance a la Virgil's Eclogues, As You Like It skewered Elizabethan conventions of romantic love, subverted gender roles and expectations, and, in fine Shakespearean fashion, explored the concept of the "corrupt" court pitted against "innocent" nature. Shakespeare may have beaten Rousseau to the concept of the noble savage by a century or two.

Rosalind lives at court with her cousin and best friend Celia, where she falls in love with Orlando. Celia's father, Duke Frederick, banished Rosalind's father and usurped his throne. He decides to banish Rosalind, as well, but Celia refuses to part with her friend. Rosalind determines to disguise herself as a man ("Ganymede") and go into the Forest of Arden to find her father. Celia disguises herself too, and they leave with the court jester, Touchstone. They purchase a small cottage from a shepherdess and meet Silvius, who is deeply in love with Phoebe. Phoebe scorns him, and when Rosalind steps in to chastise her, she falls in love instead with Rosalind's disguise.

Orlando's brother, Oliver, wants to kill him, so Orlando escapes into the forest, as well. There, he begins posting love letters to Rosalind on the trees; when she finds them, she constructs an elaborate plot to "cure" Orlando of his lovesickness. Orlando is to visit his friend "Ganymede" every day and woo him as he would woo Rosalind. When one day Orlando does not show up, Rosalind is beside herself -- until Oliver, the evil brother, shows up. He had encountered a lion in the forest, but Orlando found him and saved his life. Oliver and Celia fall instantly in love. Rosalind has grown weary of her disguise, so she importunes all the various couples to meet the next day, where she promises to acquaint them all with the true object of their desire. There, in front of Rosalind's father and his loyal men, Touchstone marries his shepherdess, Phoebe settles for Silvius, Oliver marries Celia, and Rosalind weds Orlando. The wedding celebration is made more festive by the appearance of Duke Frederick, who's changed his mind and wants everyone back at court.

"Love is merely madness," said Shakespeare, and given the manic plots that are woven, it's a wonder any of the characters escapes unscathed. Shakespeare at Love Creek assembled an energetic group of actors, but director Beverly Bullock inexplicably chose to do a "mod" version of As You Like It -- as if Austin Powers had been stapled onto the play. The courtiers looked like the Kennedys, the young people were Swinging London/Carnaby Street mods, and the forest dwellers were hippies. Interesting costumes -- and concept -- but it wasn't germane to the play itself. There was no organic textual connection between the story and the production concept. It was just As You Like It with '60s costumes; the one doesn't illuminate the other.

In addition to the conceptual incongruity, most of the actors didn't seem entirely comfortable with their dialog. If the actors don't understand what they're saying, the audience won't, either. J.P. Lopez as Orlando had the best grasp of the language, and this was reflected in his strong, relaxed performance; many of the cast were stuck in a declamatory "Now I'm performing Shakespeare" mode, which made the pace feel needlessly choppy.

But it was a cute production, even if it was a somewhat illogical one. The costumes were accurate and amusing, and the set was simple and to the point. A red-and-gold-tasseled curtain represented the court; pine wreaths behind represented the Forest of Arden. While the actors weren't Shakespearean scholars, they at least worked well together. Shakespeare at Love Creek showed they were a talented company, and they had done good work in the past. As You Like It was an animated evening, certainly; it was just not a particularly stimulating one.

With Sherri Paige Acker, Michael Cavaliere, Geoffrey Dawe, Jon Dean, Michael Graves, Susanna Harris, David Hollander, Libby Hughes, Carol Jacobanis, John Martin Keenan, Matthew Klan, Andrew Montgomery, Wende O'Reilly, and Nicholas Stannard.

  Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman