David Furr and Lily Rabe in As You Like It
(© Joan Marcus)
David Furr and Lily Rabe in As You Like It
(© Joan Marcus)
The forest of Arden comes to vivid life in the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It, at The Delacorte Theater. Not only does John Lee Beatty's lush set design blend the park's natural beauty with a carefully crafted scenic environment, Daniel Sullivan's lovely production nicely conveys the play's joy and wonder.

At the heart of the work is the love story between Rosalind and Orlando, and Lily Rabe and David Furr play their parts with a potent blend of passion and humor. Orlando has come to Arden after undeservedly earning the enmity of his eldest brother Oliver (Omar Metwally), while Rosalind retreats there with cousin Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry) after her uncle Duke Frederick (Andre Braugher) banishes her from court, also unjustly.

In order to travel more safely, Rosalind wears men's clothes and has adopted the male identity of Ganymede. Rabe is quite convincing as a boy, and as Ganymede "he" encounters Orlando who is pining for a woman he had briefly encountered at court -- Rosalind herself.

At Ganymede's insistence, Orlando pretends to woo the youth as if Ganymede were indeed Rosalind (supposedly to "cure" Orlando of his love sickness). It's in these scenes that the production is the strongest. The two actors have marvelous chemistry and their encounters are charged with a theatrical vitality.

The supporting players are more uneven. Goldsberry speaks her lines well, but doesn't give much depth to her portrayal of Celia. Similarly, Braugher doesn't make much of an impression either as Duke Frederick or as Rosalind's own exiled father, Duke Senior.

Stephen Spinella as the melancholy Jaques does a fine job with the play's most famous passage about the seven ages of man, but proves less able to make his final speech in the play do anything more than drag down the pace of the production.

Oliver Platt is often amusing as Touchstone, but his scenes are also a bit wearying after awhile. However, he has a good rapport with Donna Lynne Champlin, who plays his love interest Audrey and leads the production's most rousing dance number.

That routine, and other segments of the play, are set to the music of Steve Martin (yes, that one), who has crafted a fantastic Bluegrass score for the show. The majority of the tunes are sung by Jesse Lenat as Amiens, and they really make this As You Like It something that audiences can come to love.