A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 35: As You Like It at Shakespeare & Co.

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As You Like It, Shakespeare & Co 2011. Photo © 2011 Kevin Sprague.
As You Like It, Shakespeare & Co 2011. Photo © 2011 Kevin Sprague.

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Artistic Director Tony Simotes

Rosalind – Merritt Janson
Touchstone – Jonathan Epstein
Jaques – Tod Randolph
Orlando – Tony Roach
Celia – Kelley Curran
Charles the Wrestler – Kevin O’Donnell
Oliver – Josh Aaron McCabe
Corin – Jonathan Croy
Duke Frederick and Duke Senior – Johnny Lee Davenport
Adam – Malcolm Ingram
Silvius – Ryan Winkles
LeBeau – Equiano Mosieri
Audrey – Jennie Jadow
Phoebe – Dana Harrison

As You Like It is a play for virtuosos. Rosalind, Touchstone, Jacques, and Celia must be magnificent talkers. They have to command the idiom.  It must seem their natural speech. The players in Shakespeare and Company’s well-directed As You Like It went a good way toward doing this. Excess IS meaning in this kind of writing. (Even the poor shepherd Silvius has a long allusive speech near the end of the play). Merritt Janson’s Rosalind was in most things led by Kelley Curran’s Celia. She was the most listening Rosalind I have heard. Capable of flashing brilliance when necessary, she often chose to measure out her speeches abruptly, even with some uncertainty. This endeared her to me. The bright Ms. Curran had an excellent vitality in her words. She seemed a natural leader and companion. These two actresses made performances which were almost a composite role. Often one could not tell where one left off and the other began. I’m sure this harmony will become even more subtle and dulcet as the run continues.

Why is Jacques in this play? Where does he come from? Where does he go? I can’t say that Tod Randolph answered these questions for me, but then no other actor has either. She spoke the verse not bitterly, but with a kind of insinuating lyricism that was moving. It seemed as if her words were part of the air. She didn’t wallow. The description of old age, the final stage in Jaques’ famous speech, was lyrical. Followed it is by one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical denials of what his Jaques has just said, the entrance of old Adam, strong of heart and beloved. Malcolm Ingram played him to perfection, never overdoing it. Jonathan Epstein always makes you wonder what he is going to do next. Touchstone’s wit has a kind of desperation. He must be a virtuoso to survive. The wit he comes up with is not the soft, rich music of Ms. Randolph’s Jacques, but a kind of improvised and manic management of each situation he finds himself in. Mr. Epstein got clearly the necessity, the mandate Touchstone feels, in every speech.

Best of all was the Orlando of Tony Roach. His was the best performance of the role I have seen. Just think of how Twelfth Night begins: the androgynous Orsino lolling on a couch.  As You Like It begins with a fight, in which the unlikely victor is the forthright Orlando. Not a natural wit, and an awful poet, Orlando can just about meet the complex taunts thrown at him by Rosalind. His directness is not less than her wit. Mr. Roach had a strength on stage that had no quality of display in it, and he was vibrant. I have never seen an Orlando who was vibrant. Confused, sympathetic, charming maybe. This Orlando had vitality.

The ending of the production was just a little bit too jolly for my taste. All is not well– of the four couples brought together in this lieto finale, only one has come close to convincing us that it will last. Orlando and Rosalind have gone through a process. Their relationship has thus far been composed of trials. We believe in their love. We have seen it created.  Rosalind and Orlando do love at first sight, but they find the way to make this work largely through the agon of Rosalind’s virtuosity. It is not the gender-bending that accomplishes this. Orlando arrives late for one of their assignations. He would never make very Rosalind wait. He is at all times aware that Ganymede is not Rosalind– he has to be reminded to address her as Rosalind. It is her mastery which wins him to a truer love, not her transvestitism. This play was written near the time of Falstaff’s great scenes in the Henry plays, and Hamlet. In these inimitable structures and in the characters of Falstaff, Rosalind, and Hamlet, we are shown what words can do, what dangerous power they have, and somehow, as if by magic, what a virtuoso actor sounds like and can do to our ears.

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