Friday, June 15, 2012

As I Liked It

As posts from previous years would attest, I'm a big fan of Shakespeare in the Park. I've gone every year to at least one, if not both, of the plays being shown. I like Shakespeare, of course, but mostly I'm just a sucker for free stuff. Previous years (I'm looking at you, 2010) it has been difficult to get tickets and involved waiting in line multiple times in gruesomely hot temperatures. This year, however, my friends and I planned ahead. We went during the first few weeks when the reviews haven't come out and most people haven't remembered Shakespeare in the Park is a thing. Granted, our planning isn't the only reason we had more luck this year. I think the whole system was better organized this year, and also there was no one more famous than Oliver Platt in this production, so the Al Pacino fan boys likely just stayed home. As a result, we breezed right into this year's performance of As You Like It.

Suffice is to say, this is not from last night's production. The Public Theater is very touchy about taking photos. This is from a 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet. Since Shakespeare in the Park is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year though, it seemed a fitting homage.
I remember reading the play in high school, although apparently the only detail I retained is: "Is that the one where the guy writes on trees?" Basically, the play is a mishmash of details and plot contrivances from other Shakespearean comedies, which is why I can't seem to attribute any specific plot points to it. It has the somehow-impossible-to-recognize, cross-dressing heroine (played by Lily Rabe who previously donned the pseudo-trouser role of Portia in Merchant of Venice) who other ladies can't help but fall in love with. It has the pastoral, idyllic forest pastiche where everyone who goes can't help but fall in love. And it has the usual assortment of stock characters: the lover, the fool, the Duke (in this case two fraternal Dukes played by the same actor), the shepherdess.  Admittedly, it does have a few unique twists including a wrestling match and a bizarre deer shooting apropos of nothing, not to mention the iconic line "All the world's a stage..."

But enough of the play itself and onto my critique of the production! Having seen it before the Times review, I feel I can talk about it without being influenced by critical opinion. The play is set in the frontier which gave it a nice Seven Brides for Seven Brothers vibe, especially during the dance scenes. I was fully behind this directorial choice but mostly because I like folk music and there was a great ensemble that played the banjo, fiddle, and guitars. I also though the set was well done. For the scenes that took place at the court, they had a large log fort structure that, was broken into two rolling set pieces that were pulled back to easily transform the stage for the forest scenes. The stage trees blended nicely with the real trees behind the stage (another benefit of performing in the park). The trees were also outfitted so that actors could climb into them which made for a fun aspect of the set.

As the cast goes, I thought it was overall good, but with only a handful of real outliers. I thought Lily Rabe was excellent, but my friends found her Rosalind to be a little too whiny and mocking. My other favorites were then Oliver Platt's Touchstone and Stephen Spinella's cynical and misanthropic Jaques. Since this is the only performance I've seen of the play (pointedly not counting the dramatic reading we did in high school), I'm not sure how much of that is just due to those characters having the best lines, but regardless those two were a joy to watch anytime they were on stage. The actor who played Orlando started kind of slow and definitely underwhelmed me in the first few acts, but after the intermission he grew on me a lot. Although he didn't have a huge role, I also enjoyed seeing Andre Braugher (AKA Frank Pembleton) as the two dukes. Also, and this is really neither here nor there, but I had to look him up on Wikipedia to remember his Homicide name and apparently he is a Unitarian Universalist. So few people are.

Anyway, to sum up, I would whole-heartedly recommend this production. First of all, it's miles ahead of the two lackluster comedies they did last year (Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well? There is a reason they aren't performed more widely.) Secondly, it's free! If you plan to go, you should do it soon. Given my incredible reach, once this review goes live, the lines should increase tenfold. Also, the Times probably isn't far behind me.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that Steve Martin, of the wild-and-crazy-guy fame, wrote the music for the show?

    Also, I like your blog!