Partner and I went to see a production of “As You Like It” at Brown last weekend. Now, before I continue, you must know that I am not a Shakespeare snob. I only remembered that “As You Like It” was the play with Rosalind and Celia, and the Forest of Arden, and the “seven ages of man” speech.
As we seated ourselves, we saw some tables, chairs, and scripts lying around onstage. I am not Walter Kerr, but I know metatheater when I see it.
The first few scenes were done as mock script-readings. The characters were only approximately in costume. All the entries and exits were read aloud. This was okay, if not terribly original. But some of the scenes, especially the Rosalind/Celia dialogue, were delivered in what I think of as “Shakespearean blabbering," with the actors speaking as quickly and affectedly as possible, for "comic effect." (Think of Michael Keaton in “Much Ado About Nothing.”)
At least they didn't use fake British accents. I still have painful memories of a production of “Comedy of Errors” some decades back, in which all the actors twitched and squeaked as if they were on heroin, with bad British accents no less. It made me want to knife myself.
The first half of "As You Like It" had some nice scenes nonetheless. One was done as a short series of black-and-white silent movies, speeded up, with the actors live on stage providing the missing dialogue in rapid paraphrase: “No, I'd love to let you in, it's great to see you, but seriously, you can't come in, your brother wants to kill you!” Later, the curtain rose on an actor dressed as a panda bear, who stared at the audience for a moment, then retreated. I think the message was: “Welcome to the Forest of Arden. It’s not a normal forest.”
Partner and I escaped to the terrace at intermission. “It's not too bad so far,” I said.
“Hm,” Partner said.
The second half of the show was less successful. The actors blurted and shouted and waved their arms. The panda came back a few times, but he/she wasn't quite so cute after a while. (This is called the Law of Diminishing Returns.) And it was long. Three hours of not-very-well-staged Shakespeare is quite a lot.
So: not so great. But nice try.
I hope they do “Titus Andronicus” next year. That’s the one with people being baked into pies.
I’d love to see that on stage. Maybe with a panda for comic relief.