Ashlie Atkinson, Jenni Barber, Michelle Beck, Edward Bennett, Christian Camargo, Stephen Dillane, Alvin Epstein, Jonathan Lincoln Fried, Richard Hansell, Ron Cephas Jones, Aaron Krohn, Anthony O’Donnell, Juliet Rylance, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Thomas, Ross Waiton
If any indication is given by Sam Mendes’s rather stolid new production of As You Like It, this year’s Bridge Project – the second – is apt to be somewhat darker (and, potentially, duller) than its premiere season last year. The Bridge Project, which was begun in order to bring British and American artists together to explore Shakespearian and Chekhovian texts, has the formidable task this year of living up to two solid productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale, a nearly impossible feat.
To be fair, this As You Like It, which takes place in a seemingly Pottery Barn-furnished wilderness, isn’t exactly a dud. There are some bright performances on display, namely from the luminous Juliet Rylance as our heroine Rosalind and Christian Camargo as Orlando. After the rather grim first half has slogged by, it’s a relief to experience the lightness of she second half of Shakespeare’s play, wherein courtly politicking succumbs to airy romance.
Mendes’s approach to the play is rather straightforward. But where he should focus on the humor of certain scenes, he instead prefers to sustain his rather solemn personal style rather than optimally serving the text. Besides for Rylance, who, in Ellen DeGeneres-style drag, shines and shows excellent comedic skills, only Ashlie Atkinson as Phoebe shows much genuine wit.
Besides for these two, Stephen Dillane finds moments of occasional brilliance as Jaques, delivering his “All the world’s a stage…” monologue with conversational aplomb. But much of the rest of the cast pales in comparison to last year’s Bridge Project alum (with Simon Russell Beale looming large in my mind), and at times Mendes’s production feels too small to accommodate the sheer number of actors on-stage at any given moment.
To be certain, there are occasionally strong moments to be had within this production, which doesn’t quite justify its three-hour running time but nevertheless features some amiable performances. This year’s second Bridge Project offering, The Tempest, which begins performances on February 14, may redeem Mendes, whose work on darker, less comedic plays tends to shine brighter. Let’s hope so, because his As You Like It was just that – likable, but nothing more.