WHAT “As You Like It”
WHEN | WHERE Through Sept. 3, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
INFO $40-$125; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
BOTTOM LINE Ellen Burstyn shines in Shakespeare rom-com.
In “As You Like It,” the gentry flee their city palaces for a more bucolic life in the country.
Could there be a more perfect play for Bay Street Theater’s first main stage crack at William Shakespeare? Closing its summer season with the enduring rom-com, the Sag Harbor company has assembled a cast and production team of heavy hitters, led by Tony, Oscar and Emmy winner Ellen Burstyn. (We’ll get back to her.)
The production, done jointly with New York’s Classic Stage Company (the play runs there once it closes at Bay Street), is directed by its new artistic director John Doyle (Tony winner for “Sweeney Todd”). Long Island-raised Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) has created original music with roots in the Jazz Age.
Eliminating characters and scenes, Doyle pares the play to its essentials, focusing on its four intertwined love stories. We’re talking love at first sight here — these characters fall for each other faster than contestants on “The Bachelor.”
The play often invites tinkering. Done in 2012 at Shakespeare in the Park, it was set in the antebellum South with bluegrass music by Steve Martin. At Bay Street, despite the jazzy score, the exact when and where is left intentionally vague.
Clever costumes by Ann Hould-Ward don’t help clarify — full-skirted dresses for Rosalind (Hannah Cabell) and her cousin Celia (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), white dinner jacket for one duke, cardigan for the other (both played by Bob Stillman), tailcoat and spats for jester Touchstone (André De Shields). Neither does Doyle’s set — he doubles as designer — a bare brick wall, a swath of muslin and dozens of glowing bulbs standing in for trees, the night sky, etc. Nor does the music, often mere snippets of a tune.
Ultimately, the actors make it all work, many playing instruments, a Doyle signature. As Rosalind, one of the Bard’s most revered heroines, Cabell is especially convincing when, dressed as a man, she moves the story along to its eventual happy ending. De Shields (“The Full Monty”) is a wry, witty Touchstone.
But the focus is often on Burstyn, dressed in an androgynous suit (shades of Marlene Dietrich) to play the melancholy observer Jacques. Even when sitting quietly, taking in the action, she offers a master class in making the most of a part that’s, well, not the lead. Her delivery of the famed seven stages of man speech (“All the world’s a stage . . . ”) was elegantly understated, making it all the more poignant.