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Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ Makes Merry in the Forest

July 31, 2008

By IRIS FANGER

Theater review

The Forest of Arden has been set down in the midst of the Boston Common with much more than “a hey and a ho and a hey nonino,” in a near-perfect production of “As You Like It,” this summer’s offering of Free Shakespeare.

Now if only the weather will cooperate, the good citizens of Boston and surrounding towns, not to mention the tourists flooding the city, can watch Rosalind and Orlando circle each other in their love-drenched mating rites through Sunday.

Steven Maler, who founded the project in 1996, returns to direct this Shakespeare for the masses. Maler loses not a jot or a wit of the original as he broadens the acting and jumps the time period forward nearly 350 years to Vichy France – at least for the costumes and song-settings. Maler’s many talents include a nose for casting, matching actors to the roles with a sure and steady intuition that allows the viewer to sigh for the lovers, laugh at the clowns and rejoice in the rhythms of the songs studding Shakespeare’s text.

Although the play, dated 1600, is a comedy, adapted by Shakespeare from a romantic novel published in 1590, there are multiple dark strands threading the various plots. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, exiled wrongly from his lands by his evil brother, Duke Frederick, and forced to flee to the Forest of Arden. Rosalind remains at Frederick’s court for a while, as companion to her cousin, Celia, his daughter, but finally she also is accused of treason and sent away.

Orlando is the younger brother of the cruel Oliver, who mistreats him and withholds his rightful inheritance of education and a place in society. When Orlando bests Duke Frederick’s wrestler in a match, the young victor is warned away from home by his faithful servant, Adam. Shakespeare’s text poses questions about the morality of a world of family injustices and brothers hating one another in bitter rivalry but Maler chooses to downplay these unhappy themes in favor of giddy love-making, quick reversals, and a wedding celebration for a quartet of couples at the end.

Maler sent to New York for Frederick Weller, the Broadway actor, film and television star (“In Plain Sight”) to play Orlando, and Marin Ireland, last seen here in the Huntington’s “Mauritius” (IRNE award and Elliot Norton Award nomination), as Rosalind. Both are sassy and charming in their roles. The joke is Rosalind’s disguise as a boy for safety in the forest, where she assumes a costume of baggy pants, shirt and vest and pork-pie hat. Orlando seems not to recognize her when they meet in the Forest but there’s a glint in his eye as if he gets it.

Duxbury resident, Jeff Gill, owner of The Vine in Plymouth, is sympathetic as old Adam and amusing in the bit part of Sir Oliver Martex, the vicar. Ali Marsh plays Celia, Rosalind’s faithful cousin, as a lively, lovely foil to her best friend.

Leading the pack of clowns is Boston’s Larry Coen, who would be hard to miss for his detailed, hysterical, physical rendering of Touchstone, even if he were not dressed in his favorite yellow three- piece suit. Fred Sullivan, Jr., on loan from Trinity Rep in Providence, is simply thrilling as the melancholy Jaques. Johnny Lee Davenport brings dignity to the character of the usurped Duke Senior.

Maler has wisely turned Shakespeare’s play into a spectacle that glistens with dance and music, along with clever large props such as the bicycle carriage, pedaled by Touchstone, to bring Rosalind and Celia into the forest. Martha Mason has choreographed a brace of dances, and Tom Gleadow, with his rich-hued voice, leads a merry band of musicians.

Originally published by By IRIS FANGER, For The Patriot Ledger.

(c) 2008 Patriot Ledger, The; Quincy, Mass.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.