BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The Public Theater celebrates its 50th season of staging free shows outdoors at the Delacorte with a pleasing “As You Like It,” which opened on Thursday and represents the perfect play for this golden anniversary.
After all, what can be a sweeter classical theater experience than watching a pastoral romance nicely unfold in the middle of Central Park? Under the summer stars, yet.
Perhaps the most easygoing among Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, “As You Like It” is the one about the fair Rosalind, unjustly banished to the Forest of Arden where, in disguise as a boy, she banters with the lovelorn Orlando, who is unaware that she’s the lady he adores. Various amorous entanglements occupy other characters as well.
Director Daniel Sullivan relocates the story to the rough-and tumble world of 1830s backwoods America. Everyone sports picturesque clothes (designed by the great Jane Greenwood, who knows motley better than anyone) and they all dance occasionally to frisky, fiddle-driven tunes composed to Shakespeare’s lyrics by Steve Martin.
The performances generally are lively and well-spoken.
The leading lovers are a treat both to observe and overhear. Lily Rabe is a graceful, high-spirited Rosalind whose distinctive velvet-and-burlap voice makes beautiful vocal music with the sonorous Orlando played by a sturdy David Furr.
Andre Braugher ably embodies both the good and the bad dukes of the tale, Stephen Spinella offers a deeply-grained performance as the melancholy loner Jaques, whose rueful interpretation of the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech is moving indeed, and a gangling Will Rogers is very funny as a love-struck shepherd.