Summer theater in New York means Shakespeare in the Park and one of the productions kicking off the season is the Public Theater's "As You Like It." Time Out New York contributing critic David Cote filed the following review.
Since it began half a century ago, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater has long been known for audiences lining up all day, actors performing through swarms of mosquitoes, even the odd raccoon waddling center stage. More recently, though, it has been hard to imagine the institution without Daniel Sullivan. The master director has steered a number of highly satisfying and coherent productions there. With “As You Like It,” the director’s fifth Alfresco Bard since 2007, Sullivan does it again.
Shakespeare’s comedy is cleverly set on the 19th-century American frontier, complete with rifles, fiddlers and yards of buckram. The concept, pioneers westward-ho-ing in a wilderness where they must defend against the elements and hunger, fits neatly with Shakespeare’s pastoral romance. Instead of the court, we have a fort. The play’s incidental lyrics have been set to lively bluegrass music by Steve Martin. And the ensemble is utterly charming.
Lily Rabe takes on the sparkling but thorny Rosalind and injects her witticisms with hints of sadness. This is a Rosalind who loves so hard it makes her cry. In the often-thankless role of Celia, Rosalind’s friend, the lovely Renee Elise Goldsberry finds some sassy notes. David Furr makes for a bashful but dashing Orlando. And Stephen Spinella luxuriates in Jaques’s famous melancholia. Even the clown roles of Touchstone and Audrey draw laughs, thanks to inspired silliness by Oliver Platt and the gung-ho Donna Lynne Champlin.
Sullivan is not one to trim the text or tell his actors to speed through. He maintains a steady pace, so expect to leave the park at 11 p.m. Still, with such a great conductor, you are happy to hear every woodland note.