note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Carl A. Rossi
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Garvey
I managed to catch one of the final performances of MIT's production of AS YOU LIKE IT and I come now to bury as well as to praise it, for this charming production will be gone by the time you read this. (Like the recent Tufts production of ROMEO AND JULIET, this Rosalind & Company can hold their ground amidst the trees of Boston Common.) On the other hand, the little Kresge Auditorum was packed to overflowing on the night I attended – mostly by students, who seemed quite at home with verse and soliloquy – and the final matinee and evening performances may be sold out as well, so I cannot mourn too much: this production will die happy and beloved.
(If I sound as if I'm purring now, I am: this AS is done in Elizabethan dress (or close enough; the women's gowns are more for Cinderella and wedding cakes). And – yes – Touchstone the Fool is in motley with cap and jester's stick.)
Not having read AS YOU LIKE IT for many years, I was fascinated at how it foreshadows Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE – both plays deal with society's tyranny and injustice dissolving to love and forgiveness when one flees/is banished to pastoral life. Not surprisingly, Bill Fregosi's court for Duke Frederick is black, black, black (echoing A.R.T.'s production of THE WINTER'S TALE) – suggested by a stage-wide iron gate that shuts out the world beyond; the Duke even sports a Ming the Merciless collar. Beyond the gate, a giant tree worthy of DIE WALKURE sits alone, its bare branches waiting for the spring (I'm afraid you'll have to see this one tree for the forest). (A special mention here to Karen Perlow for her magical "winter" lighting. BRR!) Aside from actors twice breaking the action to bring in a bench and then carry it off, Mr. Garvey's trafficking is smooth and inventive, spilling off the stage, up the aisles and beyond (Silvius' fading cry of "Pheeeeeeeeeebe" is most amusing). There are few laughs to be found in Act One (which breaks with Oliver being banished to seek out his brother), but, happily, in the springtime of Act Two, the company hands out the Bard's warmth and humor by the bushel. And if there are the inevitable sexual puns and jokes, I was not too aware of them: Mr Garvey has either trimmed them or refrained his cast from triple underlining the obvious.
The company is composed of both MIT alumni and students, and thus the older members – Geoff Pingree (Touchstone), Dave Brackman (Adam) and Carl Kraenzel (Duke Frederick/Lord Jaques) tend to have the better speaking voices; though Mr. Kraenzel's Jacques is all glib surface – not an ounce of melancholy in him – and thus deprives the play of its philosophical center. But many of the students also impress in voice, timing and movement: Stephan Larson's beautifully spoken evil/redeemed Oliver, Cat Miller's pert yet subtle Celia, Josh Lifton's Harlequin-like Le Beau; Rich Reifsnyder's love-sick Silvius ("Pheeeeeeeeeebe") and Diane Christoforo as the two-faced object of his affection. Even the smaller roles – Brandy Evans as booby Audrey (furiously scratching her thighs from Lord knows what), Kim Falinski as a female Corin, Jeremy Braun as the stoopid William and Helen Lin as doddering Oliver Martext are tiny jewels in the setting but sparkle nonetheless. John Hume is in fine voice as Orlando but all too often plays the dolt – an Elizabethan audience may find quarrel in him as a dashing romantic hero. (In his match with Charles the Wrestler, Mr. Garvey has Orlando win with a well-placed elbow to Charles' groin, instead of winning through his innate goodness and/or from love of Rosalind.) The character of Rosalind is surprisingly one-dimensional – the Enchanting Heroine, no more, no less – and thus relies on an actress with mucho personality and ka-boom. Rydia Q. Vielehr is more than halfway there in those departments and is truly handsome in her wedding dress – but inside her lies Cleopatra, biding her time.
In his program notes, Mr. Garvey mentions the relief and guilt he experienced briefly escaping from today's troubled world and into the Forest of Arden. Add to that the nights that are growing longer, winter coming, and what looks to be a muted Christmas this year, and it is with reluctance that I also part not only from Shakespeare's world of love and forgiveness – but from this production as well.
Well done, MIT!