“All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts,” proclaims Jaques in Act II Scene vii of “As You Like It.”
In this past weekend’s production of the play, presented by Second Stage and the Adelphic Education Fund and directed by Claire Whitehouse ’14, several actors did indeed play many parts, and for the most part, did so quite well.
The Bard’s oft-quoted moment of meta-theatre easily avoided the stale feeling that sometimes accompanies Shakespeare’s more famous monologues, thanks to a strong delivery by Olivia May ’14. Those multi-layered lines poked excellent fun at the central idea that no one is who they appear to be: Rosalind (Lina Breslav ’13), the banished daughter of a banished Duke, has fled into the forest under the guise of a young man named Ganymede, along with her cousin, Celia (Dana Leib ’14), who pretends to be Ganymede’s sister, Aliena. As is the case in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, hilarious mix-ups of misplaced love ensue, and this production certainly captured the comedy of those moments.
Intimately staged in the Alpha Delta Phi Greene Room, the setting appropriately evoked rural charm. However, the choice to set the play against the room’s only blank wall with two simple wooden trees and a bench as the only adornment (in a set designed by Nick Myerberg ’14), rather than to use the lovely interior balcony provided by the space seemed an odd one. While the resulting starkness did not distract from the performance, it did not contribute much to it either. The simplicity suited the play well, but it may have been taken a bit too far.
This lack of decoration was similarly evident in the character of Phebe, ably portrayed by Grace Holland ’15. Though the dialogue describes her as being dirty and coarse, the clean simplicity of both her appearance and acting caused her to seem contradictorily refined. My only other complaint is that some of the male roles played by women, such as May as Jaques, were changed to women, while others, such as both Dukes (Robin Tholin ’12), remained male characters. In any other play, this might not have been so distracting, but given the importance of gender-bending to the plot, the inconsistency did the production a disservice.
That said, all of the actors showed a firm grasp of Shakespearean language and comedic timing. Sophie Riffkin ’14 as Audrey and Max Owen-Dunow ’15 as Silvius were particularly funny, and the hilariously melancholy courtier Jaques (May) and hilariously serious court fool Touchstone (Zach Sporn ’15) provided excellent foils for each other.
Additionally, the occasional bursts of traditional folk music (set by Whitehouse, aside from one original setting by Thomas Morley, and arranged by Leah Khambata ’14, Whitehouse, and Patrick Sarver ’14) provided a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the beautiful voice and guitar playing of Khambata, although it did at some moments slow the momentum of the show and appear to leave the other actors on stage without anything to do. The choice to have both Dukes and sets of courtiers played by the same actors, however, was a reasonable one.
I have up to this point neglected to mention the star vehicles, Breslav as Rosalind and Dylan Penn ’15 as Orlando. Both rose beautifully to the daunting task of carrying a Shakespeare play. With the solid support of Leib as Celia and Kiko Hernandez ’14 as Oliver, they found both the tenderness in their relationships with each other and their sibling-type characters (Celia is technically Rosalind’s cousin, but they are often referred to throughout the play as being closer than sisters) and the necessary humor to drive the play onward.
Penn and Hernandez both had a few moments of exaggerated sadness and anger, but on the whole they were enjoyable to watch. Leib and Breslav had particularly good stage chemistry; it was easy to believe they had grown up together. Breslav’s mastery of her role peaked at just the right moment—she was at her strongest in the uproariously funny confrontation between Ganymede, Silvius, Phebe, and Orlando and the ensuing reveal of her true identity, together comprising the climax of the play.
Charming, funny, and true to the clever tone of Shakespeare’s verse, this production of “As You Like It” did not disappoint. The costumes of Serena Berry ’15 and the lighting of Gabe Finkelstein ’12, while simple, provided an appropriate backdrop for the actors’ exploration of the ins and outs of Shakespearean comedy. Despite the many challenges of performing Shakespeare with a low budget and college actors, the performance flowed smoothly and evoked plenty of laughter from the audience. The final moments of the play, which consisted of a delightful folk dance, left me thinking: that I, in fact, had liked it quite a lot.