By Ron Cohen
story’s a little muddy, but director John Doyle and company still fill this
trip to Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden with lots of happy sightseeing.
and Tony-winner Ellen Burstyn sits quietly on stage, atop a wardrobe trunk, a
big book on her lap – presumably the collected works of William Shakespeare –
conscientiously reading along, as the actors around her begin playing the Bard
of Avon’s As You Like it. Sometimes, an actor will perch beside her,
playfully pushing on her head a fedora that has been sitting on the trunk.
is playing a prompter, you might presume. And you might be right for the
moment, but eventually – as the program predicts -- she transforms into
Jacques, one of the play’s signature characters. He’s the melancholy
philosopher whose intimations of mortality darken and deepen the script’s
frolicsome mélange of pastoral romances. And Burstyn, dressed like a boho poet,
plays him just right, the melancholy lightened by exactly the proper amount of
turn is one of the numerous intriguing and bravo-worthy elements that brighten
this As You Like It at Classic Stage Company, with a grand racially
diverse cast, directed by the revered John Doyle, now in his second season as
CSC’s artistic director.
all contribute to an eminently watchable production even if the story telling
sometimes seems muddled. Doyle’s acclaimed penchant for a minimum of literal
physical accoutrements, if any at all, in his productions seems to rob the play
of the bucolic environment which gives its patchwork plot a sense of unity.
Characters come on stage and start talking, with no particular setup. With a
few exceptions, Ann Hould-Ward’s hodge-podge of costumes could best be
described as contemporary neutral. And in some cases, in contrast, the language
– abounding in wit and poetry -- begins to sound more archaic than usual, with
several of the company rushing though lines in what may be a race to finish the
show in the prescribed 100 minutes with no intermission.
it is a production packed with goodies. In addition to Burstyn, chief among
them is Hannah Cabell’s dynamic Rosalind, the play’s central character. When
banished from court by her bad uncle, Duke Frederick, Rosalind goes into the
Forest of Arden to seek refuge with her father, Duke Senior, also living in
banishment. And as Shakespeare’s comedy heroines are wont to do, she goes
disguised as a boy, name of Ganymede.
Kyle Scatliffe and Hannah Cabell in a scene from As You Like It. Photo
by Lenny Stucker
whips up Rosalind/Ganymede into a perky, astoundingly animated fellow, bounding
about the stage and climbing up its walls like a pint-sized Superman,
underpinning youthful machismo with a strong streak of feminine intellect. Even
in drag, she’s a woman taking charge, a resonant keynote for today’s culture
wars. But she also on occasion exhibits a touch of love-smitten giddiness
because the object of her affection, Orlando, is afoot in the forest, another
victim of Duke Frederick’s rancor. Kyle Scatliffe, who played Harpo in Doyle’s
recent Broadway revival
The Color Purple, makes Orlando a winning mix of hunk and innocence.
DeShields and Hannah Cabell in a scene from the Classic Stage Company
production of As You Like It.
Photo by Richard Termine.
prominent turn is delivered by Broadway vet André De Shields, impressively chewing up what scenery there isn’t as
an emphatically over-dramatic Touchstone, the courtier clown who accompanies
Rosalind into Arden, and finds amour there with a local wench, Audrey. She’s
played with all the appropriate amorous goofiness by Cass Morgan, another New
York theater regular. (Fans of the Pump Boys and Dinettes, will remember
Morgan as one of the co-creators and one of the original Dinettes in that show,
which premiered Off-Broadway in 1981 and later moved to Broadway for 573
both Dukes with aplomb, Bob Stillman also displays fine piano playing,
providing the accompaniment for some of the gorgeous, jazz-inflected melodies
set to Shakespeare’s lyrics, written especially for the production by Stephen
Schwartz, of Wicked, Godspell and Pippin fame. The songs give the
show yet another extra frisson of interest. (Stephen Schwartz is the father of
Scott Schwartz, artistic director of the Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, NY,
which co-produced this As You Like It and premiered it this past
adding to the theatrical heft of the company is Noah Brody, co-artistic
director of the celebrated Fiasco Theater, whose highly praised productions
have ranged from Into the Woods to Cymbeline. Brody plays
Orlando’s bad big brother, Oliver, as well at the rustic Corin. Completing the
cast in notable fashion are Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Rosalind’s laugh-getting
cousin and BFF Celia, and Leenya Rideout and David Samuel as Phoebe and
Silvius, a country couple with whom Rosalind gets entangled. Rideout heightens
the show’s musicality with some lush violin playing along with a standing bass.
standout factor is Doyle’s design. Conventional scenery is barely there, but
hanging from the ceiling are dozens of globe lights of various sizes, along
with other bare-looking lights. At various points throughout the play, the
globe lights change color, creating a medley of eye-popping hues. (Mike
Baldassari is the lighting designer.) While the color shifts may not exactly
help in clarifying the plot, they certainly add some breath-taking magic. And a
little magic never hurts.
at Classic Stage Company
East 13th Street
x10 or 866-811-4111
until October 22