John Doyle’s Off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It is a mild-mannered affair – a passable production of limited enchantments.
It’s energised by jazzy songs by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, but otherwise it favours understatement and fails to capture the play’s joy.
Given the full-skirted costumes and accents, the production appears set in the late 1940s in the American South. Schwartz gives the play’s songs and love poems a plunky American Songbook sound with fiddle, upright bass, and piano. But as buoyant as these tunes are, the music plays a small role overall — we miss it when it’s gone.
The design is barebones and Doyle relies heavily on acorn-shaped globes of LED light that hang from the rafters and change colour to indicate scene transitions, sylvan magic and the pastoral setting. These mood-ring orbs lose their effectiveness after repeated use.
The cast, solid actors all, are stronger at the drama than the comedy and the lovestruck couples lack chemistry. Despite this the legendary Ellen Burstyn is a pensive, arresting Jacques, Hannah Cabell a clear and warm Rosalind, and Andre de Shields a colourful Touchstone.
The actors remain around the perimeter of the thrust stage or sit on steps amid the audience when not performing, but this intimacy is mostly squandered. Late in the production an unsuspecting audience member is plucked from his seat to say a few lines on stage and act as foil for a love triangle. This moment of civilian involvement animates things considerably and shakes us from our torpor.