Seen off Broadway: I figured the Public Theater would have a few surprises in store for its 50th anniversary year, but I didn't figure that Richard Thomas, in cap and bells as the lewd Touchstone in the Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It, would be one of them. His costume and makeup, which make him look as if he stepped off of a playing card, is only the strangest of several unwisely whimsical choices in a show that's often more fizzle than sizzle. Not that there aren't a few reasons to camp out on a midsummer afternoon in Central Park to see it. Following a fine Portia in the recent film version of The Merchant of Venice, Lynn Collins plays Rosalind with considerable spark and fire (however much James Waterston, miscast as Orlando, acts to dampen her high spirits), and you can't, and don't, go wrong with Brian Bedford, draped in black velvet, as Jaques, the droll sage who comments wittily on romantic misadventures. Spelling Beecomposers William Finn and Vadim Feichtner have come up with some pleasant incidental music, skillfully piped in by Acme Sound Partners. And, as always with the Delacorte, the good and the not-so-good are taken at the same price: free.
Riccardo Hernandez's set makes an arresting first impression. After a run of castles and palazzos at the Delacorte I was expecting a change, given that much of As You Like Ittranspires in the enchanted forest of Arden. Rather than go the obvious route, director Mark Lamos and Hernandez have thrown a curveball: The slightly titled set is a large zodiac/compass configuration, with wooden cutouts of mythical animals (like Pegasus) and just a few, rather scraggly trees. It's supposed to be a storybook landscape, unmoored in space and time, but, as the evening wore on-Lamos seems incapable of making much sense of the many entrances and exits-I found it more than a little impoverished, as interesting as it is initially. The costumes, by Candice Donnelly, are equally weird. The hot limes and oranges of some of the dresses clash with the sky-blue of the set, and while no one is costumed as outlandishly as Thomas (clearly having fun in the pink of his renewed career as a theater performer) everyone gets stuck at some point with an odd plume or hat to wear. The comedy should flow more from the writing and the acting than the costumes, which are overworked for merriment. Much more prosaic, and all the better for it, is the warm lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, which bathes the very real trees surrounding the Delacorte in beautiful golden illumination, provided by PRG Lighting. [Fireflies also add a nice outdoor touch to the show.]
Masque Sound supplied the audio equipment, and Scenic Technologies the automation equipment for an effect at the end of the show. However likable it is in parts, this As You Like It needed to work a little harder in its direction, and a little less hard in its design, to cast a greater spell on its audience.--Robert Cashill