- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2001

"As You Like It," under the able direction of Aaron Posner, ends the Folger Theatres season on a high note. The venerable theater has given Washington a nearly flawless rendition of a beloved play by William Shakespeare.
In describing a Shakespearean comedy, one could begin with a series of standard questions: Is there cross-dressing? Yes. What is the bad thing that happens at the beginning? Banishment. How many couples are married at the end? Four.
The Bard relied on standard formulas to construct his plots and did not see the need to invent new stories for his plays, but his comedies are more real than "realistic" modern dramas. "As You Like It" is his funniest and best comedy and offers a superabundance of material to actors and director alike. The dialogue is quick and witty, and the plot is intricate yet transparent. Even the smallest parts are invested with vitality.
The play opens with an allusion to the Prodigal Son, as the firstborn, Oliver (Craig Wallace), argues with the last-born, Orlando (Jerry Richardson), about the latters ill treatment after their fathers death. Later, at the Dukes palace, Frederick (Marty Lodge) — who banished the real duke, his older brother, and stole his brothers title — is playing host to a wrestling contest.
Orlando wins the contest and meets his true love, Rosalind (Holly Twyford), in the process. Although she gives him no cause, the usurper Frederick banishes Rosalind from his lands. Rosalinds cousin and best friend, Celia, agrees to come with her to Arden Forest. To protect themselves against marauders, Rosalind disguises herself as a man, with Celia as her attendant. The smitten Orlando, with his old servant Adam (Kate Eastwood Norris), continues to pursue her.
As the action continues, we meet the real Duke (Mr. Lodge), another brother of Oliver and Orlandos named Jaques (Mr. Wallace) and the comical couple of Phebe (Miss Norris) and Silvius (Mr. Wallace yet again). Silvius loves Phebe, but she does not love him; however, when Phebe sees Rosalind, alias "Ganymede," she falls in love immediately.
Alfred North Whitehead said that Western philosophy is "a series of footnotes to Plato." Maybe, but you also could say that commentary on relations between the sexes is just a series of amplifications of Shakespeare. The rest of the play is taken up with Rosalind endeavoring to determine whether Orlandos devotion is genuine by having "Ganymede" try to convince him that he is really not in love. "Maides are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives," she tells him. Practically anything you want to know about the opposite sex is laid out here.
As in so many of Shakespeares plays, the female lead is much more compelling than the male. As Rosalind, Miss Twyford is nothing short of superb. She is simultaneously feminine and masculine, boyish without overplaying it.
To see her play a woman impersonating a man playing a woman, as she does in the scenes with Orlando, is the highlight in a production filled with highlights. Mr. Richardson is capable and affable as Orlando, but his lover drives the action. There is scarcely enough room here to catalog the other sterling performances, though they all deserve mention.
Andrew Ross Wynn plays four characters, male and female, and provides a disproportionate share of the laughs. Miss Norris, playing another four characters, gives Mr. Wynn a run in the humor competition. As the clown Touchstone, Christopher Crutchfield Walker contributes a cynical wit and deft timing.
The sole shortcoming of the production is that it doesnt do much with the contrast between the intrigue of the court and the supposed innocence of the forest. Phebe is supposed to be a shepherdess, something you would know only from paying close attention to the dialogue, because she dresses like a nerdy schoolgirl. Some of the satire is thereby lost, though there is plenty to spare, particularly in the way the Bard calls attention to the ridiculous ways lovers are apt to speak to one another.
There are two major ways to mount a production of a Shakespeare text. One is to regard the work as an empty vessel into which any idea might be poured; thus we get feminist versions of "Taming of the Shrew," and "Richard III" set during the Third Reich. The other is to begin with wonder at how marvelously humane and insightful it is and to draw from those riches and interpret them for the audience.
Mr. Posner and his cast have followed the second path, to their credit and our benefit. If you have the slightest affection for Shakespeare, you will find this "As You Like It" likable indeed.

* * * *

WHAT: "As You Like It"

WHERE: Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through June 10

TICKETS: $29 to $38

PHONE: 202/544-7077

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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