On a hot summer night in New York City there are few things as pleasant as a trip to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Truly, only the most egregious Public Theater productions can spoil the magic, and luckily the latest show to hit the theater, As You Like It, is not one of those. It isn't the most exciting production of Shakespeare you'll ever see, but it is light, romantic, engaging and also? Free.
The only problem in this Daniel Sullivan-directed production is the play itself. Though it has some truly classic bits ("All the world's a stage...") it also doesn't have much there there. What you've got is a light pastoral comedy that runs nearly three hours. And that can start to weigh down the lightness if you know what we mean.
Still, the production itself is lush and lovely. Lily Rabe is a charming Rosalind. She seems to have a great time during the long chunk of the show where she pretends to be a man—though you'll never once forget she's a beautiful woman. Impressively she manages at some points to drop her voice down to Cathy Moriarty-levels. Renee Elise Goldsberry is lovely in the basically thankless role of Rosalind's cousin Celia (her love-at-first-sight moment with Omar Metwally's Oliver is pitch-perfect) and Andre Braugher seems to be having a grand old time as both the deposed Duke Senior and his usurper brother Duke Frederick.
Also appearing to relish being back on the boards? Oliver Platt as Touchstone the court jester. You know what they say about small roles? Platt's performance is a good example of that. His exchanges with the melancholy Jaques (Stephen Spinella) are low-key and charming and we would happily have watched him dance with his goatherding lady Audrey (Donna Lynne Champlin) for even longer.
Speaking of dancing, the bluegrass music at this production has been written by one Mr. Steve Martin and while there might be a bit more of it than a nearly-three-hour show needs, it (and the band that plays it) is quite lovely. Also worth mentioning is John Lee Beatty's set which starts off with a dull wooden wall and then opens up to reveal a truly lovely forest that fades into Central Park perfectly.
All in all you may not love this latest production of Shakespeare in the Park, but you'd be hard pressed to dislike it. And with such a stunning setting, friendly cast and such an amenable cost, there are much worse ways to spend a midsummer's night.
As You Like It runs through June 30th // ticket info here