Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' is a hit in the park

Actor Steve Martin attends the Public Theater 50th Actor Steve Martin attends the Public Theater 50th Anniversary Gala at Delacorte Theater in Manhattan. (June 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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REVIEW

In a half-century of Shakespeare in the Park, it's a Public Theater first. An "As You Like It" hoedown.

While director Daniel Sullivan is, forsooth, complicit in this Shakespearean heehaw, we know who's to blame. Check the program:

"Steve Martin (original music) is currently writing songs with his lyricist, William Shakespeare, who is always late."

Judging from this 50th anniversary Delacorte Theater production, Shakespeare's comedy seems particularly attuned to popular culture. Teetering between mirth and melancholy, "Like It" mocks our current bipolar state-of-the-world state of mind. All may be lost, but exile is a hoot.

The duke has been deposed by kid brother Frederick, both played by Andre Braugher, who distinguishes between them with a cheery voice and a touch of gray as the elder. Sibling strife proliferates as Oliver steals brother Orlando's inheritance. But before his exile, Orlando, handsomely clueless in love as played by David Furr, challenges Frederick's wrestler. Smiting the hulk, Orlando finds himself smitten by Rosalind as she secretly swoons.

Peeved over loss of face, Frederick banishes niece Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry) -- his daughter Rosalind's sisterly companion -- and Oliver (Omar Metwally).

Sullivan transports the play, ostensibly set in France, to what could be Davy Crockett's Tennessee -- circa 1830 -- complete with stockade fort, over which Frederick presides. The fortress efficiently recedes on John Lee Beatty's set to reveal Arden Forest, a stand of faux evergreens in which musicians occasionally perch (frontier costumes by Jane Greenwood).

Accompanying Celia to Arden, Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede to be near Orlando, stirring up a pixie dust storm of romance involving philosopher/fool Touchstone (florid Oliver Platt) and a dancing goatherd (Donna Lynne Champlin), plus a lanky shepherd (Will Rogers) and shepherdess (Susannah Flood), who's hot for Ganymede. Soon, all are dancing a jig to Tony Trischka's fiddlin' and banjo-pickin' band. All but the determined pessimist, Jaques -- Stephen Spinella, who delivers a spellbinding campfire "all the world's a stage" soliloquy as the dour party pooper. Lily Rabe plays Rosalind/Ganymede with effortless aplomb that shows strain only in male mannerisms that should, after all, be unnatural.

Martin's songs lend a levity that makes this reliable Shakespeare confection soar to the treetops. Even the birds, presumably volunteers, chirped on cue.

WHAT "As You Like It"

WHEN | WHERE Nightly except Sunday through June 30, Delacorte Theater, Central Park

INFO Free day-of-show tickets at Delacorte box office, shakespeareinthepark.org, 212-539-8750

BOTTOM LINE Pickin' 'n' grinnin' with the Bard

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