As You Like It: Shakespeare, Steve Martin, 50 Years at the Delacorte
The Central Park production of “As You Like It,” starring the luminous cross-dressing Lily Rabe, astonishing double dukes Andre Braugher, outrageous jester Oliver Platt, is not the singular thrill that the first Shakespeare in the Park production at the Delacorte Theater must have been exactly 50 years ago – “The Merchant of Venice” starring two relatively unknown actors, George C. Scott and James Earl Jones.
It is no match for my first-ever experience in theatergoing, which was at the Delacorte, where my parents took me to see our neighbor, J.D. Cannon, as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew; I was most impressed with the whip he snapped, and the black gravelly horse path we had to cross to get to the theater, and the nerve-shattering boom that filled the outdoor theater and left me mystified: Where was it coming from? Surely not from my gentle neighbor.
And the current production at the Delacorte is not the same as those I saw dozens of times during the summers in high school and college when I worked there as an usher. Pericles played one of those summers – I cannot get out of my head Bernard Hughes reciting “To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come;
Assuming man’s infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes.” But – was it when I was working there or simply as a theatergoer? – that I witnessed a by far more magical event on the stage, one of the most magical ever: Just as James Earl Jones playing King Lear shouted
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples…
the sky burst open obediently, the wind raged, and the rain mercilessly drenched us, where we nevertheless remained riveted to our seats.
The Daniel Sullivan-directed production of “As You Like It” does not equal those other experiences, but it also somehow feels the sum of all of them. Is there any way that a New Yorker raised up on free Shakespeare in the Park could completely separate out this one production from the 150 or so that have come before it?
“As You Like It” is in some ways an ideal choice to mark the 50th anniversary season at the Delacorte (Shakespeare in the Park actually started several years earlier, on makeshift stages elsewhere in Central Park.) The Forest of Arden to which the characters retreat and are transformed in this pastoral comedy about love offers a fitting parallel for the New Yorkers who are transformed by the pastoral setting of the Delacorte.
“As You Like It” also has one of Shakespeare’s most famous and satisfying monologues –
“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts” –launching into the seven stages of man, wonderfully delivered by an almost-unrecognizable melancholic Stephen Spinella (Angels in America)
But it is not overly familiar, and there are plenty of fresh surprises in a comedy that is just convoluted enough to feel like Shakespeare without overwhelming.
And what of this production? Steve Martin the comedian and banjo player has written the original music, played by a quartet of guitar, bass, fiddle and banjo. John Lee Beatty’s set looks like the Western frontier. Braugher plays both brothers, the gentle Duke Senior and the evil Duke Frederick
There are some very realistic-looking trees on stage, and members of the ensemble sit up in those trees, looking as if they are having fun.
It is, in other words, just the kind of unexpected that we’ve come to expect. It is indeed as you like it.
AS YOU LIKE IT
June 5 – 30
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Brendan Averett, Andre Braugher, Donna Lynne Champlin, Grantham Coleman, Jon DeVries, MacIntyre Dixon, Susannah Flood, David Furr, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Andrew Hovelson, Robert Joy, Jesse Lenat, Erik Mathew, Omar Metwally, Oliver Platt, Lily Rabe, Will Rogers, Michael Rudko, Justine Salata, Paul Saylor, Anna Phyllis Smith, Stephen Spinella, and Brendan Titley
Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Costume Design by Jane Greenwood
Sound Design by Acme Sound Partners
Original Music by Steve Martin
Additional Music by Greg Pliska
In As You Like It, Rosalind, Shakespeare’s most breathtaking heroine, and her boyfriend Orlando find themselves in the enchanted Forest of Arden, where all the world’s a stage, and where sudden infatuation is as confusing as it is beautiful. Along with other “country copulatives,” they discover that nothing transforms, redeems, or enriches experience quite as powerfully as love. As You Like It has everything we adore about Shakespearean comedy: mistaken identity, cross-dressing, madness, mayhem, rage, lust, laughter, and of course plenty of romance, both heartbreaking and joyous.
As You Like It runs 3 hours, including one fifteen-minute intermission.
It is free.
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