Set in Paris immediately following World War I, director Tony Simotes’ “As You Like It” opens and closes with the entire cast dancing to “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” a (1936!) tune that begins: “Be sure it’s true, when you say, ‘I love you.’ ”
Love and its complications are what this delightful comedy from 1599 are all about, and this sturdy production keeps us amused throughout.
‘As You Like It’
WHERE: Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 4
HOW MUCH: $65-$15
MORE INFO: 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
As in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare uses contrasting settings to move the story along.
After being banished from court by her uncle, Duke Frederick (Johnny Lee Davenport), Rosalind (Merritt Janson) flees to the Forest of Arden with her cousin Celia (Kelley Curran), and the court’s fool, Touchstone (Jonathan Epstein). It’s here that, in men’s garb, she discovers aspects of her personality that she might otherwise not have. Indeed, when we first see her, she and Celia are merely rich gossips about other people, but in Arden, they’re participants in life, making it up as they go.
Of course, this unfamiliar world is inhabited by country folk who serve as foils to the upper class intruders, including Orlando (Tony Roach), who has sought refuge from his brother Oliver (Josh Aaron McCabe). At court, both he and Rosalind ogled each other, and for the remainder of the play his love is tested by the disguised Rosalind, thus providing a number of lenses through which to view gender roles. (Remember: In Shakespeare’s day, female roles were played by adolescent males, a fact that Rosalind alludes to in the Epilogue.)
By play’s end, a number of Jacks have their Jills, to paraphrase Puck, and the evildoers have quickly become good and rational.
Wrestling and swooning
Simotes is known for his fight choreography, and he demonstrates his skills right off with a wrestling scene between Orlando and Charles (a deliciously hammy Kevin O’Donnell). Roach, for his part, executes some fine acrobatics throughout, physically underscoring Orlando’s emotional swooning.
Wry humor is well dished by old pros Epstein and Tod Randolph, as the melancholy (and gender-bending) Jaques. Curran is the perfect mugging sidekick, kind of like Ethel when Lucy gets a bright idea. And Janson credibly shoulders the play with jaw-dropping energy, wearing out only near the end when a kind of weepiness comes into the line-reading.
The play chiefly succeeds as a number of comic set pieces. Jennie M. Jadow’s Audrey walks a fine line between “peasant girl” and “wanton woman,” and she and Epstein cavort hysterically. Dana Harrison makes Phebe, the shepherdess, a preening scourge, a la Carol Burnett. And whenever Ryan Winkles, as Silvius, Phebe’s rejected suitor, is on stage, you can’t take your eyes off his puppy-dog face. Priceless, both.
A couple of concerns
A concern: While the stage, surrounded as it is on three sides, makes particular demands in terms of unamplified vocal projection, I found myself wishing for a slightly more conversational tone throughout.
And another concern: ringing cellphones and the glow of texting from the audience during the performance. Presumably audience members have paid good money to be entertained, and there is no reason to have a phone in the theater in the first place.
Harumph. And enjoy “As You Like It!”