Shakespeare in the Park: As You Like It

A few of us got a chance to see the fantastic Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It last week, a highlight of the 50th anniversary of the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 

Susannah Flood as Phoebe, Lily Rabe as Rosalind, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Celia
Of all the Shakespeare productions I've seen, none have been quite so consistently amazing. This isn't one of those showcase productions, where the Delacorte hosts one or two big-name stars and the rest of the actors try not to stop on their toes. This is an ensemble production in the best sense: every actor had their own uniqueness to bring to this notoriously convoluted tale of both the hardships and the joys of love. Lily Rabe of course was amazing as the enamored yet conflicted Rosalind (and her cross-dressing alter-ego Ganymede) who pursues the honest Orlando in the forest of Adern. But their love story depends on the lesser love stories going on behind them. Maybe most entertaining was the shepherd Silvius (Will Rogers) and his fickle love Phoebe (Susannah Flood), who deliver Shakespeare's blank verse with the cadence of bratty highschoolers. 

Will Rogers as Silvius and Susannah Flood as Phoebe
There is so much wit to this production, with humor pulled out of the words (unlike some productions, which try to tack humor on afterwards). When Orlando drapes the forest in love notes, the fool Touchstone (a wonderful Oliver Platt) idly plucks one off a tree to wipe his mouth. And when the messenger comes on at the end to deliver the climactic riposte for the happy ending (I won't spoil it, but it is certainly one of Shakespeare's wonderfully nonsensical moments), the Duke and all the court of Arden pause and look around quizzically for a few moments before seeming to shrug and say, "Well, whatever! Woo-hoo!" 

Stephen Spinella as Jaques, doffing his hat to the music
In a bold move, the brooding Jaques (Stephen Spinella) is played less like a melancholy sourpuss and more like proto-Romantic poet, blithely commenting on the action with more wistfulness than cynicism.

The stage is set in 1840's Appalacia, with live bluegrass music turning all the "Hey Nonny Nonny" into a rollicking hoe-down. Music, so much a part of Shakespeare, is often forgotten or sidelined in modern productions, but here the music is as much a part of the action as the words. (Incidentally, it was composed by Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin.)

This is free public theater, so everyone should go see it. It's a New York tradition: getting up early and camping out in line, having a picnic with friends, waiting until 1pm when the tickets are given out. We got there at 7am and there wasn't much of a line at all, though it probably will be harder now that the New York Times has given a gushing review to the production.