If ever a Shakespeare play were suited to the Delacorte, it’s his mid-career comedy As You Like It, set as it is in a forest; it’s hard to tell where John Lee Beatty’s set ends and Central Park begins, as fake trees recede into the real thing. I mean, really, what work would benefit more from the songs of squeaking birds darting by, or the eventual emergence of flitting insects? In this makeshift urban wood we find a band of followers of an exiled duke, climbing out of trees, ragged and revelrous like Robin’s Merry Men. They sing, they dance, they generally delight—and it’s delightful, as joyous as when the Peanuts lose themselves to the jazzy rhythms of Vince Guaraldi. Steve Martin’s songs—sweet, festive and catchy—employ a folk-country idiom that suits perfectly the woodsy, homespun vibe.
Into this forest frolic wander more exiled former members of Frederick’s dukedom, including the lovers-to-be Orlando and Rosalind. As the latter—often “disguised” as a man to measure her love’s devotion—Lily Rabe offers a riveting comic performance; she has a rare gift, a rhythm and melody all her own: she makes Shakespeare’s poetry sound vital and modern, like it were written just yesterday for an exceptional prime-time television comedy. With its loose energy, its contemporariness, and its wonderful songs, Daniel Sullivan’s al fresco As You Like It evokes Karin Coonrod’s Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Public last season. That was our favorite play of last year; this approaches such excellence. Don’t miss it.
The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It continues until June 30. More info here.