‘As You Like It’ theater review

‘As You Like It’ theater review

A Review by Elyse Trevers

Before the performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, director Laurie Woolery asked how many in the audience had never seen a Shakespearean play before. Many hands went up.

I just want to let those folks know that the version of the play they experienced that night is unlike any other Shakespearean production they will ever see. Although the structure and storyline of the play were the same, the casting featured professional performers but also included several neighborhood performers, NYC amateurs from all walks of life. The actors were exuberant and their giddiness was so contagious that many in the audience cheered and applauded throughout the performance. Professional actors, Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi Jones ) and Orlando, (Ato Blankson -Wood) made a lovely pair, both with wonderful voices and nice chemistry.

Like many Shakespearean comedies, As You Like It takes place in a pastoral setting. Much of the conflict is between warring siblings and characters often disguised themselves. Duke Frederick has overthrown and banished his brother Duke Senior, and Orlando, our hero, is being persecuted by his older brother Oliver. When characters are banished or flee, they wind up in the idyllic Forest of Arden.

Duke Senior’s daughter Roslind is banished. Her cousin Celia accompanies her and they both disguise themselves. After meeting Orlando at a wrestling match, Rosalind falls in love with him. Later disguised, she meets him again in the forest and has him pretend that she’s Rosalind so he can practice his love skills on her. Since the play is a comedy, it ends happily with a quadruple wedding.

The most interesting character is Jaques, a melancholy poet who speaks some of the play’s most famous lines. Portrayed by Shaina Taub, who wrote the simple, yet effective music and lyrics, Jaques opened the play singing “All the world’s a stage/ And everybody’s in the show/ Nobody’s a pro.” It’s a wonderful number that was repeated during the performance.

Woolery leads Public Works to create theater “that is not only for the people, but by and of the people as well,” and the addition of the amateur players, including some as young as six, added to the joyous mood of the production. The best numbers were the full ensemble numbers. As You Like It is considered a musical comedy because there are more songs in it than in any other of Shakespeare’s plays.

The play usually runs over two hours and 45 minutes including an intermission. Yet this version was only an hour and a half with no intermission. It was a glorious night and in keeping with the Public Theater mandate, tickets were free. As You Like It is not your father’s Shakespeare, but it is certainly wonderful for the rest of us.

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