Review: Smith Street Stage's "As You Like It" Reshapes the Landscape of Arden
As You Like It
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Katie Willmorth; assistant directed by Toni Kwadzogah
Presented by Smith Street Stage at Carroll Park
245 Carroll St., Brooklyn, NYC
June 7-25, 2023
|L to R: Theo McKenna, Jonathan Minton, Mary Cavett, Jeffrey Brabant, Ben Horner, & Zoe Dongas. Courtesy of The PR Social
|Anique Clements and Mahayla Laurence. Courtesy of The PR Social
|L to R: Delia Kemph, Mary Cavett, and Booker Vance. Courtesy of The PR Social
The bareness of the performance space, with a simple triangular, flower-adorned structure as its focal point, and the Parks Department building, with doors to the left and right, that serves as the rear boundary of the stage area, evoke early modern theatrical practices. But the production is also replete with engaging modern touches. The wrestler Charles, for example, becomes in this production Lady Charles (Mary Cavett), and the scene of the wrestling contest carries a little G.L.O.W. energy (and this Charles bears a very NY accent). Adam and Jaques also become female characters, and when Rosalind resumes female presentation at the end of the play, she is still in pants. The most significant alteration, though, is the substitution of shepherd Corin, played with quiet decency by Jonathan Minton, for shepherdess Audrey as the object of Touchstone's affections. The result is a much sweeter coupling, lacking the condescending edge of the Shakespearean original. The effective choices made here are not limited to the arena of gender: the production periodically makes use of the space around and behind the audience, finds a clever equivalent to Orlando's engraving Rosalind's name on the forest's trees, and makes full use of the play's numerous songs for both characterization and transitions.
McKenna makes for a hugely entertaining Touchstone, who is dressed in a fresh twist on the traditional motley, and Cavett is excellent as a thoughtful rather than assertively melancholic Jaques: you can feel her delight in Touchstone and see her work her way through the thoughts and emotions of the "All the world's a stage" passage. Laurence creates a youthful and excitable Rosalind, which she complicates when Rosalind-as-Ganymede argues with Orlando later in the play. Amongst strong performances all around, Kemph's Phebe is amusingly disdainful and love-struck at the same time, and Clements invests Celia with nuance and charisma. Though melancholy is certainly a theme in this play, Smith Street's As You Like It overall lands up on the lighter side of the AYLI spectrum, perfectly suited to a balmy evening outdoors. Sweet lovers may love the spring, but for Shakespeare fans in the five boroughs, summer is where it's at.
|Theo McKenna and Jonathan Minton. Courtesy of The PR Social
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards