Review: BAM's production of "As You Like It"
by Daniel Bush
Jan 19, 2010 | 17790 views | 2 2 comments | 537 537 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The world is a stage, Shakespeare writes in “As You Like It,” its men and women merely players. If you don’t believe him, grab some good company and head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to find out for yourself.

The Bridge Project’s world premiere of “As You Like It” opened at BAM January 12. Early performances are proving again that British and American actors can collaborate to produce top-notch theater.

BAM and (London-based) The Old Vic and Neal Street Productions are producing the play, directed by Sam Mendes. It opens The Bridge Project’s second season.

The play tells the story of two feuding brothers, Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, whose fight for power throws a kingdom into turmoil.

After usurping the throne from his elder brother, Duke Frederick banishes Duke Senior into exile in the Forest of Arden. After a young champion wrestler named Orlando (Christian Camargo) wins the attention of Duke Frederick’s daughter, Rosalind (Juliet Rylance), the angry duke gives her the boot as well. An outcast Orlando also runs away, and unbeknownst to each other the lovers settle in the Forest of Arden.

Suddenly the forest is alive with wanderers, jokers and peasant folk—all living beneath the watchful eye of the patriarchal, exiled Duke Senior. And this being Shakespeare, of course, everyone falls in love with everyone else.

The play unwinds at its own sweet rhythm, brought along by a strong cast performance and an impressive, understated set design. The Forest of Arden is by turns a foreboding winter wasteland and a lovers’ retreat of warm proportions.

The early, tragic scenes—Orlando’s row with his brother, his dramatic wrestling victory and Rosalind’s banishment—give way to a series of troubled romances, each more comic than the next, that unfold in a forest where Rosalind (disguised as the manly shepherd Ganymede) plays matchmaker in a quest to reunite with Orlando, her own true love.

Staged at BAM’s charming Harvey Theater, “As You Like It” marks the start of another exciting theater season in Brooklyn. (Daniel Bush)

Rating: 4/5

BAM Harvey Theater | Jan 12-March 13 | Tickets $20-95 |
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Earl Jaffe
March 04, 2010
Early in As You Like It, a wrestling match takes place between the play's hero, Orlando, and a professional wrestler, Charles. We in the audience know that the match is fixed, in a way; earlier we've seen Orlando's scheming brother pay Charles to go extra hard on Orlando, to break his neck if at all possible. The odds are in Charles' favor, so far today, he's easily defeated three challengers and is eager for more exercise, and Orlando is just a novice. To everyone's surprise, Orlando wins the bout, thus attracting the attention of the play's heroine, Rosalind, and frustrating the evil designs of the brother.

The wrestling match is the climax of the first part of the play. Disappointingly, the production skimps. The match is portrayed in slow motion, like a dance. This is jarring, since in the play's first scene an argument between Orlando and his brother gets suddenly physical, and it's portrayed realistically, with the brother getting convincingly angry and really going for Orlando, who defends himself well and gracefully, realistically and in real time. Later, we see a torture scene, also done realistically. When the wrestling match is then portrayed figuratively or symbolically, it's jarring. That might not have mattered if the wrestling/dancing was done well, but it was forced and un-graceful.

There are three song-scenes in As You Like It, and near the end of the first one, the pseudo-intellectual Jacques joins in, doing a dead-on and very funny imitation of Bob Dylan. It's one of the high points of the play, perhaps the best part, and for a moment the play did what I think Shakespeare wanted it to do: entertain the audience. If the rest of the production had been done in the same light, the wrestling match could have been done in a comedic style, or the actors could have taken a few weeks of martial arts training and then displayed some Matrix-like action. But they opted for a pantomime/dance/shadow show, which was a let-down. Again disappointingly, Jacques never does the Dylan imitation again. He could have done the other songs too - I looked forward to it - but the other songs were done straight, and I thought, a little unenthusiastically.

In this production Orlando's faithful aged servant, Adam, dies on stage. This doesn't actually happen in the script, and choosing to show it in a light comedy I thought brought the whole audience down. Adam's death scene was stronger than many of the comedy bits. Some of the comedy scenes turn on quick back-and-forth dialogue bits with Shakespearian-era puns and word twists, and unless the person watching has read the play and studied all the footnotes, the actors might as well be speaking nonsense. The audience needs to watch something happening while all this back-and-forth is going on. Here's a good place for dancing or pantomime to accompany the dialogue, but many of the bits are done, again, straight, with Rosalind and her bff/cousin simply sitting on the stage chatting.

As You Like It shows Shakespeare’s zanier side, with the plot more like the plot in a Marx Brothers' movie - not the most important element, more a structure on which to hang the gags. Ask each actor what his or her funniest "bit" is and work it into the play somehow. The production is performed in modern costume, with often clever lighting effects - at one point a conference table is portrayed convincingly with a simple block of light projected on the stage - but more of the play needs updating as well.