As You Like It
Also see Susan's review of Current Nobody
The program notes for the lovely modern-dress production of As You Like It at Washington's Folger Theatre point out that, unlike most of William Shakespeare's plays, this one is driven by character rather than incident. The outlines of the plot suggest other works by Shakespeare – the escape from a duke's court into a nearby forest is similar to A Midsummer Night's Dream; the device of a man usurping his brother's title later served as the starting point for The Tempest – but those plays use magic and other devices to propel the action. Here, the characters undergo transformations caused by their own actions and motivations.
Director Derek Goldman has created a strong ensemble that holds the audience's attention, and a striking visual presentation that incorporates projections, unique costumes and a variety of forms of stagecraft. Even the modern spectacle of pro wrestling takes its turn on the Folger stage.
The play centers on Rosalind (Amanda Quaid), whose father, Duke Senior (Timmy Ray James), has been banished to the Forest of Arden by his brother, Duke Frederick (Conrad Feininger). When Rosalind displeases her uncle, she disguises herself as a young man and flees to the forest, accompanied by Celia (Miriam Silverman), her cousin and closest friend, and Touchstone (Sarah Marshall), the duke's jester.
Shortly before leaving the duke's court, Rosalind meets and immediately falls in love with Orlando (Noel Vélez), who later comes to the forest searching for her and scatters the trees with strained but sincere love poems. From her disguised position as the youth "Ganymede," Rosalind offers romantic advice to Orlando while also helping other lovers in the forest.
Marshall's performance, in a role written for a man, is one of the jewels of this production: on the one hand, she is witty and sparkling in speech; on the other, she demonstrates a delicately balanced physical grace that suggests the great silent film clowns. The other standout performance is Tonya Beckman Ross as the rambunctious shepherdess Phebe; Ross depicts the open-hearted lustiness of her personality with hilarious, exaggerated physicality as Phebe pursues an unsuitable love object.
Quaid, tall and imperious, is an elegant Rosalind with great presence and a good physical match for sleek, lithe, yet puppyish Vélez. Feininger is properly imperious as the usurping duke, but more affecting as a mellow shepherd. Joseph Marcell gives a thoughtful reading of Jaques, the melancholy philosopher who recites the familiar "Seven Ages of Man" speech.
The scenic design by Clint Ramos uses stepladders painted bright green to stand in for trees, and walls that serve as a canvas for Dan Covey's evocative projections: grim, metallic panels for the walls of Duke Frederick's palace, leaves in autumnal colors for the forest. Carol Bailey's costumes range from the billowing court gowns for Rosalind and Celia and the patchwork outfits of the forest folk to the outlandish garb of the wrestler Charles (Scott McCormick) and the court attendants. John Gurski also deserves specific mention for his fight choreography, both the stylized moves of Charles and a more realistic battle between Orlando and his diffident brother Oliver (Gene Gillette).