As You Like It
nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
June 9, 2005
It’s ironic that later this month people will be waiting in line for hours to get tickets to the Public Theatre’s production of As You Like It. For a whole lot less hassle, you can see another production of As You Like It, in the very same park (Central) and for the same price (free), performed in a unique manner and served up in an easily digested portion.
NY Classical Theatre doesn’t produce Shakespeare in a theatre in the park, but rather produces it in the park itself, using the natural terrain for its set. Each scene takes place in a different part of park, just a few feet away from the previous scene. The audience walks along with the show, from place to place, shepherded by a crew of flashlight-wielding ushers. Actors make their entrances from over hills, or along the park’s many hidden paths, while the audience sits in meadows or on the park’s benches. (Only a few scenes have benches nearby, so patrons should be prepared to be on their feet for the two hour running time of the show.)
This has a wonderful effect on the audience; as the first scene change took place, prompting the audience to run through a flower-strewn meadow to reach the next scene, I overheard one woman say to her friend “I’m frolicking!” The frolicking makes this a good way to introduce children to Shakespeare, by the way.
As You Like It has always been a crowd-pleaser, with its gender-bending shenanigans, strong female lead, and liberal clowning. It’s the story of young lovers caught in one of Shakespeare’s elaborate love triangles (which ends up as a love pentagon by the end). When the Duke is usurped, he and many of those loyal to him are banished to a nearby forest, Arden. His daughter, Rosalind, disguises herself as a man, and follows him to the forest, where her love, Orlando has also been banished. Here they encounter an increasingly elaborate chain of unrequited love, and general confusion, so it’s up to Rosalind to sort matters out in time for the epilogue.
The story is a perfect match for the outdoor venue, since much of the action takes place within a forest. Director Stephen Burdman has set the play in a period that feels strongly reminiscent of early 20th century, yet still timeless (women are in long skirts, and men are in boxy suits or waistcoats). It’s not an earthshakingly unique interpretation of the play, but certainly an entertaining one. The script has been whittled down to a bit under two hours, from a total of around three hours when unedited. The result hangs together pretty well, though the minor characters do seem more… minor.
The cast gives a nice performance, made remarkable due to the unusual conditions of the show. Leading lady Jenn Schulte’s portrayal of the cross-dressing Rosalind was manly enough to make a wandering park-goer loudly ask is she was a man or a woman. Torsten Hillhouse’s Touchstone proved to be a hit, getting plenty of laughs with his foolery (and a bit of help from Shakespeare’s wit). Some of the casting choices are non-traditional, like using the very-young-looking Hunter Gallagher in the role of an old man (eventually you don’t even notice Gallagher is a youngster, though).
Any outdoor performance open to the public will have to deal with certain distractions, whether it’s confused joggers stumbling upon the show, angry old ladies grumbling about the crowd, or even startled pot-smokers who find themselves surrounded by verse-spouting players. This season, NY Classical Theatre uses the area around a pond for their show, so mosquitoes become a minor annoyance in one scene.
NY Classical Theatre’s work has a high novelty factor, and should be seen at least once, just for that alone. But this company is more than a novelty, able to stand on the quality of its productions wherever they might be produced. So, by all means, go frolic with them.