- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
William Shakespeare’s romantic “Christian” comedy “As You Like It,” currently running at Classic Stage Company, is on the surface a play that has offered appreciative audiences over the centuries more than a sufficient supply of gender-bending antics, mistaken identity, banishment from court, trysts in forests, and unlikely pairs “tying the knot” at play’s end. It’s comedic flair, roster of songs, and enduring soliloquies make “As You Like It” a popular choice for Shakespeare lovers. One cannot resist, for example, Celia’s (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and Rosalind’s (Hannah Cabell) arrival in The Forest of Arden after Rosalind’s banishment from Duke Frederick’s (Bob Stillman) Court or Touchstone’s (André De Shields) and Audrey’s (Cass Morgan) “foolish” romps in that same Forest.
Phoebe’s (Leenya Rideout) infatuation with the disguised Rosalind and her rejection of Silvius’s (David Samuel) advances are beautifully acted scenes that skillfully set up the play’s resolution. Noah Brody’s Corin delivers the shepherd’s “philosophy” with the conviction of innocence.
“As You Like It” is ultimately best described as a psychological thriller of sorts that explores in depth the more profound issues of relationships, equanimity, the true nature of love, the experience of a human life birth through death, melancholy, confession, reconciliation, and redemption. Rosalind’s (in disguise) scenes with Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe) in the Forest are mesmerizing and transformative. One will not easily forget the magical entwining of the two “men” as Orlando woos “Rosalind” as the shepherd. Nor will the audience forget Ellen Burstyn’s (Jacques) delivery of the iconic “All the world’s a stage” and “A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’th’ forest” soliloquies.
The songs in “As You Like It” are beautifully given a jazz-like feel by Stephen Schwartz’s original music. Bob Stillman leads the cast in performing these songs with a palpable depth of feeling. Ann Hould-Ward’s costume design and Mike Baldassari’s lighting design (those multi-colored acorns!) surround the cast with supportive charm. John Doyle’s overall design is effective and thought-provoking.
Under John Doyle’s exacting direction, the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Their performances – believable and authentic – carefully explore their characters’ levels of complexity and the engaging conflicts that drive the comedy’s fluid plot. The production is marred, however, by the inability of the audience to hear the dialogue. Much of the opening scene is completely inaudible and too many of the conversations in the Forest are lost. Whether this has to do with the reconfiguration of the theater or with direction is an unanswered question that needs to be addressed.
Overall, the Classic Stage Company’s “As You Like It” is a fitting addition to the Company’s fifty years of excellence in theatre.
AS YOU LIKE IT
The company of “As You Like It” features Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Celia), Ellen Burstyn (Jacques), Noah Brody (Oliver/Corin), Hannah Cabell (Rosalind), André De Shields (Touchstone), Cass Morgan (Old Anna/Audrey), Leenya Rideout (Phoebe), David Samuel (Charles/Silvius), Kyle Scatliffe (Orlando) and Bob Stillman (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior).
“As You Like It” features scenic design by John Doyle, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward and lighting design by Mike Baldassari. David Arsenault is Associate Scenic Designer and Amy Sutton is Associate Costume Designer. Production Photos by Richard Termine.
“As You Like It” performs Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets, visit classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). For further information on Classic Stage Company, call 212-677-4210, visit the theatre in person at 136 East 13th Street, or go to www.classicstage.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
Photo: André De Shields and Hannah Cabell. Credit: Richard Termine.