Theater Review - As You Like It
Theatre critic John Porter visits Williamsburg for his take on "As You Like It."
There are few places I would rather be on a soft summer night than Williamsburg, Virginia. I'm not talking about the usual tourist destinations, although they have their own reasons for visiting.
I have a couple of favorite restaurants, a delightful bookstore and the Virginia Shakespeare Festival; okay, that last one is a recent addition to reasons to go to Williamsburg, but it's a good one.
Recently, the Virginia Shakespeare Festival opened "As You Like It," one of my favorite of the comedies, and since I have not taken the opportunity to visit this well-known company, I was looking forward to spending some time with a new experience.
I'm glad I took the opportunity, even if the evening rewarded me with mixed results.
On the plus side, the technical aspects of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival were top-notch. Matt Allard designed a set that moved quickly from city to country, Jennifer Teronti's costumes were absolutely sumptuous and David Dorsh contributed some of the best fight choreography I've seen this year.
However, on the negative side, and this is something I've encountered with Shakespeare before, is the fact that I find some of the supporting characters more compelling than the leads. I've wondered about this often, and attribute it to the difficulty even good actors have maintaining the power that the leads need. Supporting characters get to come in, play a scene and get outta there, much easier without the pressure to carry an entire play.
For example, Joe Brock as Touchstone steals several scenes and I found myself waiting for him to return once he left the stage. His sparring with Joseph Dellinger was a delight, and one of those scenes where Shakespeare let a common man get the better of a court-educated person.
The Groundlings probably loved it, and frankly, so did I. But on the negative side, I wasn't really thrilled by Annemarie Clough's Rosalind; playing the cross-dressed roles is always tricky and remember, in Shakespeare's time, you had the added interest as you would watch a male actor portraying a woman disguised as a man. Clough just never gets the hang of Rosalind's masculine masquerade.
Rob Arbaugh, as Orlando, is fine when he's playing the man of action; his wrestling scene with Chad Merla is tense and the tension it creates with the usurper Duke Frederic is palpable; however, once Arbaugh moves into the lover phase of his role, he starts to act twitterpated and quickly loses focus.
Director Carl Copolla has made some interesting choices; I don't agree with all of them, but somehow I doubt that he's losing much sleep over that. I don't usually mind it when directors move Shakespeare out of his world and reset the play in another space or time; occasionally, this helps me find a fresh approach to the classics. But in this case, setting it in the 1930's made me wonder why the courtiers were living in such a pastoral setting.
"As You Like It" runs through July 18th at the Phi Beta Kappa hall on the campus of William and Mary.
For WCVE Public Radio HD, I'm John Porter.