Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August 2004
I went back to see As You Like It a second time on August 1 (read my original review here) because the original Rosalind, Sarah Rafferty, had departed for work on an independent film and a new actress, Christine Marie Brown, has taken her place for the run of the show. Brown is a newcomer to the Berkshires, but has an impressive array of Shakespearean credits under her belt. She received her M.F.A. from The Globe Theatres in San Diego and most recently appeared in the Lincoln Center's Tony Award-winning production of Henry IV (ensemble/understudy for Lady Percy), directed by Jack O'Brien. She also has played the title role in Romeo and Juliet at the Guthrie Theatre. At Alabama Shakespeare Festival, she has played Thomasina in Arcadia, Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Bianca in Othello.
At intermission my “date” asked me how I liked Brown compared to Rafferty, and I realized what a foolish question that is. No one is going to get to see Brown and Rafferty on the same stage, and very few people will be privileged, as I was, to see them both perform this role in this production. Unless Brown absolutely stunk up the stage and ruined the show, which she didn’t, this isn’t a contest. The question at hand is not who is/was the better Rosalind, but is the show still worth seeing. The answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Brown is a petite red head whose beauty seems more radiant when she is “in drag” as Ganymede than when she is all duded up as Princess Rosalind. This is fine because the character herself finds great liberation in her male persona. Brown is energetic and her Ganymede is girlish and manly at the same time. One of my complaints about Rafferty was that she was far too feminine to be believable as a young man. Brown solves that problem by playing the youthful exuberance common to both sexes without overemphasizing her feminine wiles. She looks like she is having great fun up there on the stage, and her castmates seem to play well with her. She looks good in Jacqueline Firkins elegant costumes, although I suspect that she had to have a new set made for her or Rafferty’s retrofitted because she is of smaller stature.
This time around I gained a deeper appreciation of Susannah Millonzi as Phebe and Dan McCleary as Silvius. Theirs are purely comic roles, and they are very funny in them. Funny without being clownish, although Millonzi’s performance in particular is very broad. They are both stubborn and lusty rustics who know what they want and pursue the desired object with complete and passionate abandon. I was really glad when they got their happy ending.
I seldom get the pleasure of seeing the same production twice, or of seeing a show later in its run. I usually come on opening night, or at least the press opening, when the adrenaline is pumping and everything is relatively new and “dangerous” to the actors. It was nice to see this cast a little further along in the process, a little more relaxed in themselves, in their roles, and with each other. I did notice some subtle changes to the blocking and performances, but all for the better. This remains a strong and strikingly beautiful production of this favorite Shakespearean comedy.
My one quibble with this production of As You Like It is that it is too long. Starting at 7:30 p.m. it runs three hours with one intermission. My hindquarters are in favor of starting the show at 7 p.m. and adding a second intermission. Even on the comfy seats in the Founders’ Theatre two hours is a long time to sit.
As You Like It is running at Shakespeare & Company through August 29 in the Founders' Theatre on Kemble Street in Lenox. The show runs three hours with one intermission and is best enjoyed by people over the age of 10. Call 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004