As You Like It
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 8, 2010
The reason to see a Storm Theatre production of one of Shakespeare's comedy/romances is because Peter Dobbins, the Storm's artistic director, consistently cuts through the ribaldry and theatricks on the play's surface and hones in on the beating poetic heart at its center. Come see his current show, As You Like It, not for clowning or reinterpretation but solely to appreciate the earnest themes of love, faith, and goodwill that anchor the familiar story. Dobbins revels in Elizabethan trappings, and so he gives us lots of song and dance and an epilogue delivered without so much as a wink by the actress who plays Rosalind. And, in a heartfelt nod to the city where he works, he gives us an ensemble that truly looks like New York, blending the diversity of many cultures to celebrate what's universal in one of Western Drama's most enduring works.
The storytelling in this As You Like It takes its time, focusing us on what's actually at stake for the principal characters before they all meet up and frolic in the Forest of Arden. We meet the two brothers Oliver and Orlando first, the former inexplicably an enemy to the latter; Orlando, as portrayed with palpable passion by Mauricio Tafur Salgado, yearning to grow into himself, and Oliver, incarnated by Harlan Work, fueled by equal parts hatred and self-awareness. Oliver meets with Charles, wrestler to Duke Frederick, and arranges for him to defeat his younger brother in a wrestling match at the duke's palace.
We next encounter the duke's daughter Celia and her cousin Rosalind, who are closer than sisters and whose dependency on one another has increased since Celia's father banished his brother (Rosalind's father) to the forest. Laura Bozzone (Celia) and Erin Teresa Beirnard (Rosalind) make these young women very different from one another, with Celia both more reserved and more dutiful than her more adventurous and impetuous cousin. The two girls attend the wrestling match, where two earth-shaking events occur: first, Rosalind and Orlando lay eyes upon one another and fall instantly in love; and second, Charles is defeated by Orlando, which immediately turns Orlando into an enemy of the dukedom. Soon both he and Rosalind will flee to Arden, the one for his safety, the other on the duke's orders, and in the company of her cousin Celia and the court fool, Touchstone.
Dobbins makes it clear that the flight to Arden is no walk in the park but rather a scary undertaking full of risk and unknowns. Salgado, Bozzone, and Beirnard are all convincingly youthful—we believe that they're teenagers who are genuinely fearful about what will happen next, but nonetheless bound to do the right thing for themselves and others as they leave the security they've always known. And Salgado and Beirnard, in their brief moments together before and after the wrestling match, give us two young people irretrievably in love. We're fully immersed in their story as they head off, unbeknownst to each other, to the forest and the heart of the play.
The mood lightens, of course, and the play turns mellower as the characters move further away from the villainous Duke Frederick and Oliver. We meet the shepherds Corin and Silvius, here portrayed with jolly simplicity by Jose Sanchez and Robert Carroll, respectively; and, in the formidable person of Christine Bullen, we meet the somewhat shrewish maid that Silvius is determined to woo and wed, Phebe. And of course we encounter Duke Senor (Rosalind's father) and his melancholy courtier Jaques, portrayed here with the world-weary sagacity that a permanently broken heart affords by director Dobbins, who renders the play's most famous soliloquy (the one that begins "All the world's a stage") with simple eloquence. Joe Danbusky plays both Duke Frederick and Duke Senor and makes them into such different men that I had to force myself to remember that he was just one actor.
A highlight of this production is the wrestling scene, which is both longer and more exciting than I've seen in previous productions of the play, thanks to the contributions of fight choreographer Michael Engberg (who, Dobbins told me, is a wrestler himself) and Jimmy Gary, Jr., the ex-NFL player who portrays Charles.
Ken Larson's simple set, Michael Abrams's evocative lighting, and Laura Taber Bacon's costumes, which conjure 17th century New Spain (where Dobbins has set his production) all work together beautifully to build the visible world of the play. And Dobbins and his company mine the spirit and soul of Shakespeare's story and words to build the inner world within it.
This is not an As You Like It with a gimmick or with an attitude: it's one where the power of love, pure and simple, defeats the wicked forces around it.