On the page, there’s nothing overtly magical about As You Like It. Nobody conjures storms or misappropriates love potions or portends the future. Still, if you accept that falling in love is its own sleight of hand, then the play is nothing but magical. The Old Globe deserves praise for capturing that essence in a truly brilliant production.
Set in enlightenment France, the story follows a group of (mostly) merry men following Duke Senior (Cornell Womack), who has been banished to the Forest of Arden by his usurping brother, Duke Frederick (also Womack).
Frederick has allowed Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Meredith Garretson) to remain in court to keep his daughter Celia (Nikki Massoud) happy, but suddenly changes his mind. Soon, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone, the fool (Vincent Randazzo), are off to the forest, Rosalind dressing as a man and taking the name Ganymede.
But before they leave court, Rosalind meets Orlando (Jon Orsini), and the two instantly fall in love. Orlando must also leave home (nasty older brother) and go to Arden. Once in the forest, people fall in love at a voracious rate. When Orlando starts etching bad verse into the trees, Rosalind (as Ganymede) offers to take him to “woo” school.
There’s too much good about this production to lay it out in this short review. Stone does excellent work at boosting the tension in a play with little actual conflict. There is no love in As You Like It other than love at first sight, but the way the production unfolds, it just seems like the natural order of things.
The play is readymade to address gender fluidity: a woman dressed as a man but in love with a man who must fend off a woman who’s in love with her. It would be easy to make those issues the show’s centerpiece, but Stone treats them with some nuance, interrogating without becoming fully immersed.
Rosalind/Ganymede is the axle that keeps the play turning and Garretson steps up nicely, offering some delightful sendups of masculine posturing. But there are also heartbreaking moments while she is schooling Orlando – a rough touch becomes a loving caress.
The melancholy Jacques (Mark Dold), one of Duke Senior’s attendants, is a particular highlight. Dold invests Jacques with a philosophical self-awareness. Everything he sees makes him sad, but that only makes him want to see more.
Randazzo’s Touchstone is a marvel of flailing limbs and philosophical counterpoint. As You Like It is basically an extended series of list poems, with a smattering of plot for cohesion. Touchstone gets a healthy portion of these lists, which Randazzo tackles with such gleeful spontaneity. He may be a fool, but he’s not dim. Special mention for Summer Broyhill, who sings beautifully throughout.
The Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival is always a treat, but this production levels up. The magic is palpable.