Wandering is the motif of the New York Classical Theatre’s peripatetic production of As You Like It, fitting perhaps, for Shakespeares most dedicately bucolic of plays. But where the fictive forest is to some degree utopian, here the only seating is the often-wet grass, and if the show’s dry wit won’t always keep you on your toes, the constant wandering certainly will. A new arboreal location for every scene may be a cute device at first blush, but by the fourth time you are forced to move fifty yards to a new corner of the realm, trudging has lost its charm.
The cast is sharp, and smartly assembled. Connie Castanzo, to whom I warmed instantly, affords Celia a quirky charm, making her a hopeless romantic and eternal optimist, which soon becomes a necessary counterpoint to Rin Allen as Ganymede’s persistent stern glare. Beginning with a fine and indelicate Rosalind – once Allen has pinned her long hair underneath Ganymede’s cap, she turns it up to eleven, speaking at crushing volumes with something like a forked tongue (and Rosalind-as-Ganymede’s tongue is mighty sharp). She gives Orlando such a verbal thrashing, you feel more than the occasional twinge of pity for the poor, love-sick, object. Emily Verla is a vital and revivifyingly hilarious Audrey – finally, a production where it is clear as a summer’s day in the park why she falls for the unscrupulous Touchstone.
In his many cross-dressing comedies, Shakespeare used the discovery of the feared-lost lady as the harbinger of resolution. After disguising herself as a boy, the return of the ingenue in all her female splendor was the cue for wedding bells to chime, for dueling parents to make peace, and for a charming epilogue to be rounded off with a song. In this production, however, Ganymede’s triumphant reveal as the lady Rosalind happens so quickly and so quietly, blink and you might miss it.
If this is supposed to be love, then it’s a light-hearted diversion. If comedic truth lies in the exploration of tragic circumstances, here the comedy lacked guts. Even during its most heartfelt moments, there fails to be any real weight or sense of urgency to the realities of the piece. There is a compelling importance for productions of Shakespeare that are devoid of the pomp and circumstance that the Broadway stages afford. But everything in this As You Like It is a little too neat, a little too meticulously planned. We never get a sense of the whirlwind nature of these romances, or the unchained frivolity that the forest of Arden brings out in even the most aristocratic of ladies and lords. If you give the bard his full dimensions, Shakespeare is no walk in the park.