Review: A Breakneck ‘As You Like It’ at CSC Retains Some Charm
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, September 29, 2017
“Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Is it just because I have a birthday coming up that I find those words so very despairing?
Or is it because they are spoken, in that instantly recognizable crackling voice, by the estimable Ellen Burstyn as the melancholy Jacques, in the new Classic Stage Company production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Burstyn delivers the lines, the finale to the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech, as she walks off stage, and her eyes seems to stare into the darkness of “sans everything.”
But As You Like It is a comedy, isn’t it? It is, despite Jacques, a classic tale of mismatched lovers and confused gender identities (sounds quite modern, no?). There’s a lot that’s mismatched in this production other than the mooning shepherds and misguided maidens. In fact, there’s downright perplexity along with plenty of charm.
The costumes are a mixed bag. Some of them come out of an onstage trunk, and they have the Mickey-and-Judy feel of what’s just been pulled out of Grandma’s attic. The company claims to be going for a Jazz Age look, but I’m not sure exactly how these crinolines and overalls and flannel shirts (and Burstyn’s mad cool fedora) could ever have come from the same era.
Same for the music, from Wicked’s Stephen Schwarz, another jumble of tuneful ditties that while away some time rather charmingly. And speaking of time—there’s about a third of the play missing, or maybe more, since even with those ditties shoehorned in, the production still runs at a zippy 105 minutes. Maybe that’s because many in the cast are speaking at double time, especially Hannah Cabell’s high-energy Rosalind. For those of us who listen to podcasts at double-speed to squeeze more in, this will sound familiar. I proffer major kudos to Cabell for being not only comprehensible while speed-speaking but actually captivating.
The remainder of the cast has highs and lows. Quincy Tyler Bernstine is charming as Celia, especially after the helium she appeared to be sucking in the early scenes seemed to wear off. Cass Morgan and Noah Brody do well in two roles each and the veteran Andre de Shields overplays appealingly as the jester Touchstone. Bob Stillman as both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, and Leenya Rideout, as Phoebe, also sing and play instruments, which, as I’m sure you know, is director (and CSC artistic leader) John Doyle’s trademark. Like a cook who made a hit with her sausage casserole and brings it to every potluck for eternity, Doyle has turned artistic ingenuity into a gimmick. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here, it’s mostly appealing. As are the beautiful acorn-like globes that hang from the ceiling and change colors to suit the mood. Unfortunately some of them hang a bit too low, and for unacceptably long periods, replace performer’s heads from various spots in the audience.
Couldn’t they have taken a little time to check out the vantage points? And maybe to slow down the text while they’re at it? I’m all for keeping things moving, and heaven knows slow-mo Shakespeare is an invitation to a nap. But language like this does at least occasionally deserve a linger or two, or at least a chance to grasp it all before it’s run away.
I’m not sure if director Doyle thinks we’ll get bored if he slows down a bit. Or maybe this is the CSC’s new Shakespeare directive—the Hamlet I saw there two years ago had Peter Sarsgaard ripping through those famous likes like the guy in that old FedEx commercial. Remember him?
There are many charms to this new production. But I say to Doyle: Take ten more minutes of our lives, or maybe fifteen. We won’t mind. And the work will be the better for it. Oh, and get that damned lighting fixture out of my face.
As You Like It at the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Running time: 105 minutes with no intermission, through October 22, 2017. Written by William Shakespeare; original music composed by Stephen Schwartz. Directed and designed by John Doyle; costume design by Ann Hould-Ward; lighting design by Mike Baldassari; hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas. Cast: Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Noah Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Hannah Cabell, André De Shields, Cass Morgan, Leenya Rideout, David Samuel, Kyle Scatliffe, and Bob Stillman.
Cover: Bob Stillman and Ellen-Burstyn in ‘As You Like It;’ photo: Richard Termine.