For the first thirty minutes of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “As You Like It,” I was entranced. The characters were on a journey through the history of American cinema, and the first scene’s send-up of a silent film had the audience delighted. Director Maria Aitken’s evocation of that era was perfect, from the stylized acting and Basil Rathbone-ish villians to the exquisite design elements. Then, we jumped ahead in time. She still had me with the move from Puritan England to Valley Forge America, the exiled duke and his men becoming George Washington and his ragtag soldiers.
But when we arrived at Tara and saw Scarlett O’Hara, my eyes began to hurt. By the end of some three hours of constant location and time changes through the Reconstruction, Wild West and up to a Busby Berkeley musical, I had a migraine. There was a faux movie director on stage occasionally calling “cut!” – but what this production really needed was a better editor.
I normally don’t object to Shakespeare productions that take sweeping liberties or use radical conceptualizations. After all, these are plays that have been done repeatedly for centuries, and they need a face-lift sometimes. But I do object when concepts don’t serve the purpose of the story. And this one, as beautiful as it is, does not.
It also must’ve cost a bundle, as one audience member muttered under her breath when a large neon sign shone for just one scene.
I don’t fault Aitken’s ambition, merely the execution. It’s a testament to her skill that the acting is top-notch. Continue reading