February 23, 2007 – Opening Night
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
One of the best aspects of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is its de-monumentizing of Shakespeare. His plays are put on stage without the pomposity that lets the audience know that they are seeing high culture which is good for them. The normal OSF attitude is “Shakespeare today, August Wilson tonight, you decide what you like.”
Well, OSF didn’t follow that rule this time. Not with this As You Like It, and as a result, I liked it very little.
The production is leaden and long. The first half is filled with speechifying. Characters bluster to the front of the stage and deliver their lines. A mosaic of problems is dropped in front of the audience without connection or cohesion.
“Here, take this. It’s Shakespeare!” we seem to be told. “And this! And this!”
The disjointedness is amplified by the senseless staging and costuming. Supposedly set in the 1930’s depression, the stage is initially sparse and industrial and more like a silent movie depicting a Industrial Revolution factory. The Arden forest is equally sparse and stylized, and equally unsatisfying in its own, off-the-mark way. The supposedly complementary costumes are the real puzzles. They wander from pseudo-1930’s business, to gangster, to 1800’s English countryside, to simply too busy, incomprehensible, and wrong. And, then there’s the featureless music which is delivered inappropriately by this player or that.
The wrestling scene which featured a shirtless, clean-cut, 20/30-something Danforth Comins (Orlando), typified the off-putting feeling of the evening. Instead of the match showcasing a tantalizing bit of male flesh (normally a very good thing), the participants in the wrestling here were made unattractive and, well, odd-looking. I am pretty sure that Comins is good looking, but not on this set, in this light, with this direction.
There are fun performances to watch, but all of the actors are clearly doing a bidding of a director, J.R. Sullivan, whose psychotropic meds were having an off week. There’s no overall functioning together of the parts of the play.
Rather than cutting and focusing or amplifying and spotlighting, this production gives the audience a vision-less regurgitation of Shakespeare’s comedy chestnut. As a result, the evening was heavy and long.
Positive nods to Miriam Laube (Rosalind) for sparkling eyes and fun moments. Sarah Rutan (Phebe), Robert Sicular (Jaques), David Kelley (Touchstone) had great moments, too. And, Juan Rivera LeBron was pretty, sincere, and spot-on in his scenes as always (although, he is getting a bit old to be the starry-eyed kid much longer).
But, the performances needed better direction for the evening to be entertainment.