As you'll have it: A standard production of a favorite

by Christopher Moore | 11/12/01 6:00am

Paul Gaffney's direction of "As You Like It" brings Shakespeare's romantic comedy home. The storybook charm of Edwardian American sets and costumes, the reserved characters, the rational progression of events, the reluctance to soliloquize too self-centeredly and the degree to which actors keep to their own lines makes stepping indoors from turn of the century Upper Valley into turn of the century Adirondacks entirely natural.

We seek the natural, in nature. A gazebo with leaves and old-time bamboo fishing poles defines the idyllic. Men and women who banter and wax melancholic and sing little ditties comfort us. We are ousted from the city, by men or haste, and gain serenity among fellow souls, gathering respite as they gather apples and good cheer. The one-up-man-ship in the civic center, or the regal court or the corporate world, spits the second man up, and only in the anarchic woods may he reenfranchise.

The philosopher G. E. Moore, however, defines the naturalistic fallacy as the assumption that whatsoever is natural is good. In Hanover we do not live in the city, and while dried out foliage pleases the human species, much of this population has seen plenty already. After having worked and lived at home for a week, one might wish a show would transport one elsewhere, to be compelled through the evening not by hearty lines and warm company but by novelty and risk. The Adirondacks, and the familiar awkwardness of people talking all in one room, do not refresh so much as remind.

The play does not disappoint in its minute-to-minute performance -- the show, nearly three hours long, almost never lags. Alexis McGuiness '03 as Rosalind, Jeffrey Withers '02 as Orlando and Henry Gummer '02 as Touchstone speak their iambs as if they were chatting, and only incidentally with excellent prosody. They each act naturally (which in this case is a good thing), which means that they usually remember they are outside in crisp autumn air, charged with the excitement of life and freedom and lust. In the slower bits -- we can restrict these primarily to the first act -- we can watch them, especially Ms. McGuiness, and be pleased, pleased to watch people perform emotions believably.

We do not forget where we are (for we need not suspend our disbelief), but we become involved with a story. One thing happens, then the next; curiosity as a natural human emotion arises naturally.

Here curiosity does not seek resolution, as does suspense, in knowing what happens. By definition of comedy, Orlando marries Rosalind, who with Celia (Gwen Carroll '04) fled Celia's father and dressed in knickers and shirts to join the shepherds and exiles in the woods; Celia marries Oliver, Orlando's newly-reasonable brother; Sylvius marries Phebe; and so forth. By cultural memory "all the world's a stage," we're all actors on that stage, and all have seven acts. Curiosity arises from Shakespeare's language and manifold intrigues.

Instead there are flaws in the interpretation, almost lack of interpretation, of the play. Beyond the accomplishment by the senior actors (not exclusively the ones mentioned above) and the old-reliability of the play and its themes -- not inconsequential -- this term's Mainstage production has little exceptionally noteworthy. Mr. Gummer, well suited as court clown, develops a playful rapport with the audience, giving us knowing looks, hamming it up, not becoming frenetic but maintaining unpredictability. Other than him, though, the actors remain within their lines (partly due to the admirable job of casting several dozen young actors), rarely working in ensemble. In a ribald play ripe with bawdy puns in the text, and with the potential for sight-gags galore -- no emphasis falls on any double-entendre -- often the cast appears unaware of the "as it were," and speaks so diligently (that is, quickly) that the audience doesn't know to snicker.

Audrey asks, "I do not know what 'poetical' is: is it honest in deed and word? is it a true thing?" This performance of "As You Like It" gives the honest deed and the honest word, but truly it does lack some of the poetry in it.

Nevertheless, while it is the experimental which makes us learn and grow, it is the home cooking and grandmother-knit chunky sweaters which get us through life. As a reminder of the value of the rural, the jest of love, the disguise of friendship -- this "As You Like It" is just so.