July 10, 2011 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
The glorious thing about As You Like It that is now playing at Shakespeare and Company’s Founders Theatre is that it will be with us in repertory through September 4th. Meanwhile, ten days after its opening, rave reviews and word of mouth have made it the hit of the season. Deservedly.
Tony Simotes has assembled a dedicated, all-star cast of actors who have been playing Shakespeare leads with the Company for years, many of them even in earlier productions of As You Like It but in a different role from that played in this production. Kudos to the entire cast!
As for sets, lights, original music, dance and costuming, again the departments have been headed by experienced and innovative masters of their trades. More kudos. (Simotes choreographed the acrobatic wrestling scene himself.)
So, rather than try to out-rave the raves in another review, this reviewer will deal with only the epilog, delivered by Rosalind, as directed in Shakespeare’s manuscript. Its significance is that it brings layers and layers of meaning into the cross-dressing, androgonouus theme that were there all along, from that first mad dancing of the Charleston at the play’s opening and the even madder dancing at its end.
Simotes knew what he was doing when the set the play in Gay Paree shortly after the first world war, and the costume designer knew what he was doing when he dressed his dancing actors as silent film stars of the day.
As Rosalind, Merritt Janson has the most wonderful role in the play and handily steals the show (abetted by her surrounding cast) carrying it gracefully to the heights that would have had Shakespeare himself clapping in the wings.
One would feel she had ascended the heights. But no. She has out-staged herself, carrying the whole cast into the highest complexity and joyous abandonment, slightly naughty but never quite over the top.
She gets the epilogue! Stands and delivers it in her virginal white wedding gown. Every inch a woman. And in Shakespeare’s day the prologs and epilogs belong to the men. Indeed she would in his day have been a male, a young boy pretending to be a girl who in the play, dressed as a boy, would be wooed by another boy, dressed as a boy whom she suggested pretend that she was a girl, despite her garments, and kiss her and the mirror images of boy/girl would ambigiously envelop the whole play and all the hysterical misunderstandings and promises and surprises.
Shakespeare must have had great fun writing this play – so full of possibilities and impossibilities and mistakes and near-mistakes. All whirling around this one character as she/he bids us goodnight and urges kindnesses and understandings worth listening to.