Tuesday, February 02, 2010

As You Like It

"As You Like It" presented by the Bridge Project at Brooklyn Academy of Music, January 26, 2010

(photo: Joan Marcus)

This is my first opportunity to see a production by the Bridge Project, a three-year partnership between the Old Vic Theatre in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street (Sam Mendes' film and theater production company).  Last season's offerings were Chekov's The Cherry Orchard in a new adaptation by Tom Stoppard and Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, both of which were pretty well-received (well enough received that I couldn't get a ticket!).  For their second season, it's a Shakespeare double-bill of As You Like It and The Tempest.

Tickets have been much more readily available for the first of this year's productions.  Telling the story of Orlando, searching for a reason to be in the world, coached by his love, Rosalind, hiding in front of him wearing trousers, Mr. Shakespeare asks for a substantial suspension of disbelief from his audience.  Certainly the writing is romantic and the story, at times, compelling.  Still, never having seen or read this play, I couldn't help but feel that this production, while pleasant, is unremarkable.  The actors are generally skilled in the language, with an exception here and there, and the staging is functional.  It was all very pretty.

There still seems something missing.  Where is the force that required this play to be produced with this cast in this theatre?  The story itself is typical Shakespeare at his operatic best, banished fathers, feuding brothers, greedy villains, masquerades and unfortunate love triangles. Juliet Rylance's Rosalind is lovely.  She really carries the evening, most of which is spent in a khaki suit and pork-pie hat as her alter-ego, Ganymede. Equally nice is Christian Camargo's Orlando, the youngest son forced into the forest after his older brother drives him from the family estate following their father's death.  As the middle son Jacques, Stephan Dillane strolls through the proceedings, content in his own discontentment.

Directed by Mr. Mendes, he keeps the action apace, but never seems to draw out any particular thoughts on the events of the plot.  The laughs are muted, resulting in a general sense of melancholy for most of the show.  Even the supposed joy of the ending is trampled a bit in the uncomfortable choreography stomped out by a willing if less than graceful cast.

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