Review: An ‘As You Like It’ That Is More Prose Than Poetry

If, as Classic Stage’s marketing suggests, these design elements are meant to produce a Jazz Age feeling, it was lost on me; nor do Mr. Schwartz’s catchy settings of Shakespeare’s lyrics help pin down the period. The general ban on fanciness seems to have banished specificity as well.

In the resulting vacuum, you can get a glimmer of what Mr. Doyle is after: a plain, vernacular presentation of the text by actors who look and sound like today. Even the adorable plot — featuring the enmity between the brothers Orlando and Oliver, the love between the cousins Rosalind and Celia, the eventual cross-romancing of the pairs — seems less important to him than the act of relating it. The opening and closing tableaux make that point, with the cast huddled around a leather-bound Shakespeare edition as if it were a family album.

Photo

Hannah Cabell, center, as Rosalind.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Admirable as this approach may seem in the abstract, there is something stingy about it in practice. All pageantry is lost, of course, including the usual Shakespearean delights of royal-watching and stage combat. So forget about crown jewels and parades; Mr. Doyle does not even let us see the wrestling match that is a major plot point, and often a highlight, of the first act. Nor, in abjuring technical tricks, does he give us anything worth paying attention to between scenes unless you like watching an upright piano get wheeled around.

But these are superficial wounds; even the flattening of the action that naturally results from heavy cutting of the text is survivable, as the Public’s version demonstrated. The tumble of highlights can be incorporated, with a wink, into the style of the production.

The deeper problem here is what happens when there is no style, or rather when the lack of style becomes a style in itself. Musicals sometimes…

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