Folger Theatre's As You Like It

Preview Performance

While it is true that I may be more than a little obsessed with Shakespeare, I am not a Shakespeare purist. Do whatever you want with a play: change the setting, change the time period, change genders, whatever. I only ask two things:
1. Have a reason for making choices.
2. The choices have to make sense with the text.

Unfortunately, the production of As You Like It currently at the Folger doesn’t follow either of these rules.

As You Like It is a play in which a world of strict rules (the court) is contrasted with a world of absolute freedom (the forest of Arden). The disparity between these two worlds must be clearly established. Duke Senior is in the woods with his men, while his brother rules the court with an iron fist. Rosalind is trapped as a woman with no power in the court, and she escapes what binds her, both by running away to the forest and by dressing as a man. Director Derek Goldman rightly notes in the program that while in the court, Rosalind is in a man’s world. But his production design makes no effort to establish this fact. Furthermore, in order for Rosalind to really be free, and for the suspension of disbelief to be held, As You Like It needs to be set in a time and culture where men dress distinctly differently than women. Goldman sets the piece in the here and now, where women wear pants all the time. Any sense of breaking the rules by dressing up like a man is further destroyed by the decision to have Touchstone played as a woman. Touchstone wears pants and has short hair, and everyone knows that she is a she. But a Rosalind in pants and short hair is assumed to be a he.

Goldman directed his actors to be absolutely clear in their speech. They spell it out for us, but it is too strongly done. The result is a production that moves at the speed of molasses and is void of any emotional reality. You understand what is going on, but the actors don’t make you care.

Noel VĂ©lez (Orlando) and Amanda Quaid (Rosalind) especially fall in this trap. Both actors are guilty of showing the audience emotion instead of feeling it. Gene Gillette as Oliver and Miriam Silverman as Celia fare better. Silverman is the only actor that gives her character a journey. Celia bolsters and supports her friend Rosalind in her times of woe. She is there for Rosalind at all times, only to watch her friend leave her behind as she runs after Orlando. Silverman has an absolutely lovely moment where she realizes that she is losing her best friend.

In the supporting cast are performers that I have seen and liked other productions in the DC area. Here, without exception, their performances are misguided or inappropriate. For example, Joseph Marcell is an engaging performer, but he is woefully miscast. He is too sprightly to be believable as the melancholy Jacques.

Sarah Marshall (Touchstone) is a talented comedienne. Her speech where she threatens William with death is very well played. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make any sense to have a female Touchstone. When Touchstone tries to marry Audrey, which does the vicar insist someone must give Audrey away? He makes no such demands on Touchstone, even though they are both women. It could be argued that it is because Audrey is young, but if this is the reason, it does not read in performance. If you are going to make this choice, at least cut the parts of the script that don’t support it.

The actors are not helped by the terrible production values that surround them. The only design element I liked were the panels all around the stage that are lit in various colors with a leaf motif when we move into the forest of Arden. The effect is quite lovely.

I have never seen a more senseless costume design than the one here presented by Carol Bailey. The various costumes have no unifying purpose. They don’t create the contrasting worlds of the court and the forest, or really any sort of world at all. They don’t properly establish character. I don’t care how good the actors are, it is absolutely impossible to believe that any woman would fall in love at first sight with any man when all he is wearing is cream long johns. Yet we are asked to believe this of Rosalind and Orlando.

Derek Goldman’s production of As You Like It is a complete mess. As director he is responsible for making sure that the production elements and the acting present a specific world and illuminate a specific theme. He does neither, leaving us with no reason to see the play.

1 star
October 17 - November 25


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