The production is set in France of the 1920s and artfully combines evocations of both Paris and the Forest of Arden: The city of lights is represented by miniature versions of famous landmarks (the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower) that twinkle at night and serve as props as well as set.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tony Simotes. Staged by Shakespeare & Company at the Founders’ Theatre, Lenox, MA, through September 2.
If you have a family member reluctant to see Shakespeare or, as I do, a partner who finds the language a trial to sit through, Shakespeare & Company’s (S & Co.’s) As You Like It may be just the thing to win him or her over. Shakespeare’s play about love is one of his most popular in part because the plot is easy to follow and because it contains some of the Shakespeare’s best-known poetry and speeches. It’s a perfect vehicle for this company’s limber, word-obsessed actors and director Tony Simotes (who started out as a fight director as well as actor) because it pairs their verbal skills with opportunities for lively athleticism. His production barely gives the audiences time to catch their breath, let alone the actors, especially the suave veteran Johnny Lee Davenport, cast both as the good Duke and the Bad Duke, the one who expels most of the characters from his court and the one who welcomes them to his refuge in the Forest of Arden.
There are so many things I liked about this production that I’ll just list them:
1) The production is set in France of the 1920s and artfully combines evocations of both Paris and the Forest of Arden: The city of lights is represented by miniature versions of famous landmarks (the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower) that twinkle at night and serve as props as well as set. Arden is not the classically leafy forest but a bare-branched, less welcoming place.
2) The cast is made up of a wonderful mix. Director Simotes has cast some of his longtime S & Co. colleagues such as Malcolm Ingram, Jonathan Epstein, Jonathan Croy, and the versatile Tod Randolph—each of whom show new facets of their acting selves—with a younger group of actors less familiar to Lenox audiences. Tony Roach as Orlando was a particular treat.
3) Almost all of the performers are interesting to watch, as convincing singing, dancing, and performing gymnastics as when they speak those much-quoted lines. A couple of them play musical instruments and provide one of the more satisfyingly aural environments I have recently enjoyed in the theater.
4) Unlike so much over-produced theater music these days, the music here is live, using mostly acoustic instruments and a cappella voices. Hats off to composer Alexander Sovronsky!
5) The costumes! How can I describe the costumes? I adored the costumes. If you can take your eyes off the crazy athleticism of the actors for a moment, try to focus on the details of these colorful duds designed by Arthur Oliver.
This is summer theater at its best, suitable for grandparents and even young children.
Helen Epstein is the author of author of Acting in Terezin and Joe Papp and other work on Kindle.