As You Like It
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
July 27, 2006
Rain and howling wind can be an asset to outdoor productions of some of Shakespeare's plays, such as King Lear or Macbeth. As You Like It, unfortunately, is not one of those plays, but TheDrillingCompaNY manages to overcome those obstacles to present a charming, if imperfect, production for Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot.
As You Like It is, in many ways, a prototypical Shakespearean comedy. The young Orlando (Max G. Hambleton) is disinherited by his brother Oliver (the very good Peter Macklin). Hearing of a wrestling match at the court of the Duke, he decides to take a chance at making his fortune. He takes on the masked Charles (a very funny Tom Lapke), and defeats him, but is banished by the angry duke Frederick (Erik Bryan Slavin). His noble effort wins him the sympathy of Rosalind (Dana Slamp), child of the banished duke who has been allowed to remain at court. She follows him into exile, along with her friend Celia (Elizabeth Schmidt) and the jester Touchstone (the wonderful Richard Mover). Rosalind disguises herself as a pageboy and takes the name Ganymede. In the forest (or, as in this production, parking lot) of Arden, Rosalind and Orlando meet again in the court of the banished Duke Senior (Erik Bryan Slavin again). Complications, and romance, ensue.
The heart of any production of As You Like It is Rosalind, and Slamp does a lovely job. Her Rosalind is older, a little more world-weary than a typical characterization, but still displays a girlish glee in response to Orlando's affection. Slamp ably throws herself into matchmaking and verse-speaking with gusto, and the results are charming.
Director Jesse Ontiveros sets the play in an odd mishmash of '50s gangster movies and mid-'60s hippies. This produces some funny juxtapositions: there is a point where two lords are instructed to kill a deer, and set about the task by pulling out the 9 millimeter pistols tucked into their waistbands. Not five minutes later, one of them (Amiens, one of three roles played hilariously by Dan Barnhill) is tearing into a folk song Bob Dylan style, complete with mounted harmonica. Producer and DrillingCompaNY artistic director Hamilton Clancy plays the melancholy Jacques as a kind of dazed beatnik (the famous "all the world's a stage" speech is played as beat poetry, complete with drumming and finger snapping). This approach is funny, but loses much of the cynicism and bite that Jacques otherwise might have.
The biggest problem with the production is that it seems to be working against the setting rather than with it. The playing area is bounded on one side by a sign that says "90 Degree Parking Only" and by an NYC transit SUV on the other side, yet the only time these unusual surroundings are utilized is when Slamp uses the SUV's passenger side mirror to check her reflection. Some of the actors seemed to be struggling to balance projecting enough for the outdoor space with creating realistic characters (admittedly the production I saw was plagued by rain and wind and had to end before the final scene could be played). Maria McConville, as Phoebe the Arden High School cheerleader, and Neil Shah, as Silvius the shepherd in love with her, seem the most comfortable, showing us hilarious characters that are broad enough to be funny in the outdoor space without showing signs of exerting effort trying to be heard.
Despite its flaws, the production is never boring, and moments of it reach real heights of hilarity. From a free play where you can bring your own chair, what more can you ask?