By Manning Harris
You may ask, why is Shakespeare Tavern doing “As You Like It,” running through Jan. 31, so soon after a successful run last June?
At the risk of sounding flippant I must say—wrong question. The better question is, naturally, why not? And there are many reasons: It’s the dead of winter; this most lighthearted of Shakespeare’s comedies is the very spirit of summer; the fine cast, deftly directed by Andrew Houchins, is almost identical to June’s; and the Tavern knows its strengths. They’ve got this show down pat, and the evening I attended was a sellout.
It’s a love story (actually several), but the central would-be lovers are Rosalind, as full of life and confidence and wisdom as any woman in Shakespeare, played by Dani Herd with even more zest and assurance than she displayed last summer; and Orlando, played by the dashing, accomplished Jonathan Horne with irresistible insouciance.
Just how irresistible? All right, you asked: The night I saw the show a woman rose from the audience (there are tables in the Tavern where one eats and drinks), approached the stage and announced, “I want to marry Orlando!” The situation was handled with enormous aplomb by Ms. Herd and Mr. Horne. The whole scenario was awkward yet very amusing, and I lack space to tell you more details. But it’s the kind of thing that can only happen in live theatre, needless to say.
The Bard’s lines zap you when you least expect it: “True it is we have seen better days.” “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” “All the world’s a stage.” Not for nothing was Shakespeare named, a few years ago, the most influential Brit of the past thousand years; Winston Churchill was second.
And you always discover new lines: Rosalind’s advice to Phebe, a shepherdess, “Sell what you can. You are not for all market,” got a big laugh from the audience.
The entire play has somehow revved up the energy and comic panache from last year’s production. Two examples: the wrestling match between Charles (Vinnie Mascola) and Orlando displayed a new, assured comedic flair that made it great fun to watch. In addition, I was impressed with Drew Reeves’ sly, dry Jaques, who tossed off the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech with a world-weary casualness that I loved. He paused after the famous opening line, as though Jaques was thinking, “I might actually have something memorable to say here.” He made the part his own; no easy task when you’re following Chris Kayser, who played Jaques last summer.
I’m not going to give you a plot synopsis; it’s a bit complicated though easy to follow; and Google awaits. Just know we’re in the Forest of Arden, which is populated with some of Shakespeare’s wackiest characters, and we have an excellent cast, including J. Tony Brown, Paul Hester, Kirstin Calvert, Jeffrey Stephenson, Becky Cormier Finch, Nicholas Faircloth, Kristin Storla, Adam King, Troy Willis, and Mary Ruth Ralston.
Once again, the pace in the last 20 minutes of the show lags a bit; perhaps a line or two could be cut (or is that heresy?); or maybe the audience is waiting for Orlando and Rosalind to finally, unequivocally announce their mutual love and kiss, which they do in the last second of the show. There is a sigh of relief.
In the interests of full disclosure, actor Kevin Roost will be playing Orlando Jan. 28-31. I have it on good authority that he is very, very good. Whether he causes a lady to publicly lose her composure remains to be seen.
For tickets and information, visit shakespearetavern.com.