The Old Globe’s summer Shakespeare repertory is set in a drab, Eastern European world of bullies and bloodshed. “As You Like It” manages to detach and float free, spreading its serene glories as a unique theatrical masterpiece. But “Richard III” remains bogged down in the loathsome blight of its hypnotic title character.
That one genius could have created, four centuries ago, both this Rosalind and this Richard celebrates again the mysteries of art.
Lindsay Posner’s staging of “Richard III” concentrates exclusively on the title role, a part that always has fascinated audiences with its ranting malevolence. There are a few opportunities in supporting roles, but Posner’s choices tend to blur everybody else and allow his Richard to spread unchecked the slime of his twisted ambition.
Robin Moseley as the exiled Queen Margaret, detritus of this endless War-of-the-Roses; Jonathan Spivy as a thoughtful murderer; and Jacques C. Smith as Buckingham, the Richard crony who lasts the longest, are interesting. Others blend into crowds notable mainly for the abundance of stolid girl soldiers.
It’s Shakespeare’s gentle send-up of a popular pastoral romance which he enriched with contrasts between the mannered poison of a tyrannical court and the idealized reality of the Forest of Arden.Nobody except the star gets anything fun to wear, just period business casual or tired-looking coveralls. And costumer Deirdre Clancy leans rather too heavily on the lame’ for Richard. The first-act scenery eludes memory while the second act is dominated by two towering vulgar-heroic murals of the fighting Richard in Kodachrome excess.
Truth is, this production doesn’t deserve such a vivid image. The touches of modernity are not earned: These TV cameras produce no images, these submachine guns are never discharged. It’s as if a properties list was drawn up and then forgotten.
Adrian Noble’s “As You Like It” has some baggage too. In a prologue, giant doors are dragged open upstage to reveal a European box car being stuffed with refugees while others are turned away, wailing, and flung to the ground. It’s all gratuitous and quite pointless but, since it happens before everybody is quite settled in their seats, it doesn’t really matter. (I suspect serious thought has gone into just dumping the effect, despite its obvious cost and bother.)
Then soon enough, there’s young Orlando, the handsome and stalwart Dan Amboyer, railing away at the injustice being done him and there’s feisty Charles Janasz as dear old Adam, the idealized ancient family retainer probably as much a fantasy in 1600 as he is today, gamely offering to follow young master wherever, and we’re off.
It’s Shakespeare’s gentle send-up of a popular pastoral romance which he enriched with contrasts between the mannered poison of a tyrannical court and the idealized reality of the Forest of Arden. This contrast is the engine that drives “AYLI” but it doesn’t need echoes of fascist nightmares on one side any more than it needs a genuine slain stag on the other.
Adrian Noble just does better work than that. His actors relax into their roles and let the bliss flow. Happy Anderson is a porcine and bellicose Duke Frederick, The two young ladies at his court – his daughter Celia and her bosom pal Rosalind, daughter of the rightful duke who has fled into forest exile – are played with all sorts of flash and vigor and charm by Vivia Font and Dana Green, respectively.
Both did well as frustrated aristocrats in “Richard III” but I suspect they were hired for these roles. Font is bright affectionate Celia, ever ready to flash her formidable grill in a dazzling trademark smile, and Green is the classic Rosalind, generous with advice and affection, impatient with unhappiness and in every way the splendid, classic femme.
After the brash Orlando, seeking the fortune denied him by his evil older brother, shows up to answer the general challenge by the court wrestler and then cleans up the canvas with him, he and Rosalind click like magnets, lost to love. The duke, having lost at wagering, is so apoplectic that he banishes Rosalind. So she and the outraged Celia plot to head for the Forest of Arden, accompanied by Touchstone, the court fool who isn’t so foolish he does feel which way the wind is blowing. Rosalind decides to masquerade as a boy and most of the preparation for the trip involves what they’ll wear and how they’ll call each other.
The Forest of Arden is a Robin Hood fantasy where the exiled duke hangs out in rustic indolence, apparently waiting for a break. Bob Pescovitz plays him as a sincere and adored father to his hearty band of followers who sing a lot. (There’s no play in Shakespeare more musical than this one, so Shaun Davey is a real boon. His settings of these antique songs, not naturally shaped to 21st Century ears, are juicy and spirited, usually starting with mandolin solo and then building through canned strings, harp and percussion into something just short of Star Trek. And back.)
Pretty much everybody eventually turns up in the idyllic woods and that’s the real meat of the play, the intersection of all these characters. The locals include a resolute young shepherd who wants to buy a farm and marry his local belle, only she’s bored with him. These two are played by Christopher Salazar and Allison Spratt Pearce as if perpetually high on hormones. Pearce in particular fairly rattles with repressed reproductive urges which finally erupt when she meets the disguised Rosalind and falls as if shot into maximum missionary position.
This pair is there for contrast and plot fun. Two of the play’s three most vivid characters have virtually nothing to do with the plot. Our Touchstone is Joseph Marcell, loose-limbed and worldly-wise in the tradition of the role. But Jacques C. Smith is more interesting, a Jacques who doesn’t quite work. He’s darker and more intense than usual, less languid and more the seeker. He certainly is off-rhythm with everybody else – he and Orlando, the play’s two most incompatible characters, can’t wait to escape each other – but it’s a cold, precise alienation rather than the usual vague poofiness.
Adrian Noble herds them all with gentle purpose towards the gala finale but he always has time for a gag, the cheaper, the better. Thus Jay Whittaker, who plays that evil older brother to Orlando, is such a sissy himself that when he lashes his quirt against his boot, it hurts. And when the wrestler shakes his hand, that hurts too. Rosalind and Celia in court are not afraid to use Groucho schtick. And Touchstone’s list of increasingly challenging court insults climaxes with a general mooning.
All this is to relax everybody, onstage and in the audience, for something far away from deadly boxcars and in the land of imagination, where a giant tarp and three ladders become a forest (thank you Ralph Funicello) and everybody dresses in splendid Balkan operetta costumes (delightful, Deidre Clancy).
Reminiscing on past Globe productions some day, I hope this won’t be the one with the boxcar. How about just, “The ‘As You Like It’ that really worked”?