The merits of the play itself have been debated almost since its first performance and indeed, as with most Shakespeare pieces, As You Like It demands much from audience and actors. Actors must force their tongues around Elizabethan speech and keep up an incredible amount of energy throughout the performance. The audience is charged with keeping straight an impressive number of characters many of whom are cast in multiple roles, and must tune their ears to interpret and understand archaic speech patterns and phrases. It can be exhausting for everyone.
In the past I’ve experienced and enjoyed several college level productions of Shakespeare and usually what the actors lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm and energy. Unfortunately this was not the case here. I felt as if I were attending a read through or at best a dress rehearsal. There was little creativity in the way the characters were brought to life, no clarity in the delivery, and the attempt to be innovative in the set design was interesting but ineffective. A dozen framed 15 foot mirrors may have seemed a good idea in the planning stages and I’m sure everyone worked very hard on them but they were just silly.
The program notes assured us that the play would “hold the mirror up to a society of corruption and greed in a France of long ago”. Great. I was up for that; but in the very first scene a group of bedraggled poor people are marching in a circle with signs that bear present day slogans of the dissatisfaction of the 99%. Director Annamaria Pileggi was attempting to “mirror” pre-revolutionary France with present day America. I get it. It just looked more like the opening of a Monty Python sketch to me.
Yanking the beard of the traditional may be fun and indeed, I’ve enjoyed a rowdy unconventional production or two of the Bard’s work, but what’s needed here is a little more expression in voice and faces, a lot more movement by the actors, a little more by way of set design to set some kind of mood, and a lot less change for change sake.