NEW YORK—There’s fun to be had with the Public Theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This whimsical and wry tale of sibling rivalry and passionate and unrequited love all come together in this serviceable production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
Orlando (David Furr), youngest son of the late Rowland de Boys, is at odds with his elder brother Oliver (Omar Metwally). Seeking to prove his worth at a wrestling match, Orlando ends up winning the challenge, despite Oliver’s efforts to make things go otherwise.
During the contest, Orlando becomes attracted to the beautiful Rosalind (Lily Rabe), niece of Duke Frederick (Andre Braugher), and she to him. However, when the Duke learns of Orlando’s identity, he becomes enraged. Orlando’s father is an enemy of Duke Frederick, having seized power by forcing the Duke’s brother, Duke Senior (Braugher), Rosalind’s father, into exile.
The fleeing Duke Senior and his followers take refuge in the Forest of Arden. Seeing danger closing in, Orlando also departs for the forest, followed by Rosalind who has earned the wrath of Duke Frederick and been banished from his court.
Disguising herself as a man for her journey, Rosalind is accompanied by her childhood friend Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who is also Duke Frederick’s daughter, and Touchstone (Oliver Platt), the court jester. Upon his arrival, Orlando is welcomed by the exiled Duke, while Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone fall into the company of a forest shepherd (Jon DeVries).
Life in the forest offers much time for making merry and pontificating about the meaning of life. The latter is personified in the various verbal duels between the characters, a highlight of which involves the melancholy Jaques (Stephen Spinella), one of the exiled Duke’s company, and Touchstone.
Between the numerous discourses, there are several romantic entanglements with the locals, such as Touchstone’s relationship with the goatherd Audrey (Donna Lynne Champlin), someone perhaps of easy virtue.
The Rosalind and Orlando relationship is handled for the most part very nicely. Rabe is very good as a woman caught up in her feelings for someone she only just met and taking pains to make sure Orlando feels the same.
Furr is fine as Orlando, both a stalwart young man and lovesick dreamer. The first meeting of these characters is quite believable with each immediately attracted to the other, but neither quite sure how to express it.
However, not all things quickly introduced come off that well. The eventual attraction between Oliver and Celia, as well as the final fate of Duke Frederick, all unfold in too matter-of-fact a manner to really hit home. In both cases, more shading and subtle emphasis is needed.
This problem is also evident when Phoebe (Susannah Flood), a shepherdess, finds herself falling for the disguised Rosalind, much to the dismay of the shepherd Silvius (Will Rogers). What is supposed to be an almost farcical situation goes somewhat off the rails because of Rabe’s too calm and restrained reactions rather than ones of disbelief or exaggeration, either of which could have brought more life to a rather stilted sequence.
Elsewhere, Metwally makes a good villain as Oliver, but his later scenes, which require more depth, don’t really ring true.
Braugher does well as both Dukes, though his early turns as Frederick work best, he having little to do as Duke Senior but to play the contented exile.
Performances that resonate more strongly include Champlin, who is quite funny as the enthusiastic and somewhat ribald Audrey; Platt, who cuts a combination foppish and cynical figure as Touchstone; and Spinella, as the world-weary Jaques, who uses melancholy almost as a shield against life.
Daniel Sullivan’s direction is good in many moments, but lacks the sure hand to guide the actors to bring forth stellar performances throughout.
Choreography by Mimi Lieber is quite appealing, often making good use of the playing area.
Delacorte Theater in Central Park
Enter at 81st Street and Central Park West
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or www.shakespeareinthepark.org
Running Time: 3 hours
Closes: June 30
Rick Sordelet’s fight scenes are also quite realistic.
John Lee Beatty’s set of the forest is wonderful and well used by the actors. However, his backdrop of Duke Frederick’s kingdom, a colonial style fort, feels bulky and awkward.
Natasha Katz’s lighting works well, and the musical numbers accompanying the story are excellent.
Decent enough, though not particularly memorable, this production of As You Like It makes for a nice treat on a summer evening.
Also in the cast are Jesse Lenat, Robert Joy, Brendan Averett, MacIntyre Dixon, Brendan Titley, Andrew Hovelson, Grantham Coleman, Erik Mathew, Justine Salata, Paul Saylor, and Anna Phyllis Smith.
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.
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