Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts’ season concludes with William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, through September 3. This unique production, which includes an original score by storied composer Stephen Schwartz, manages to find something new and exciting within Shakespeare’s classic text through excellent production design and dynamic performances.
As You Like It tells the story of Rosalind, a young noblewoman whose father has been banished by his brother to the Forest of Arden, and Orlando, the youngest son of a wealthy family who is at odds with Oliver, the heir to the family fortune. The two meet and are instantly taken with each other, but circumstances keep them apart. When Rosalind’s uncle, Duke Frederick, decides to exile her, she and her cousin Celia, along with the jester Touchstone, decide to escape into the Forest of Arden themselves, just as Orlando learns that his brother plans to kill him and also takes flight to the Forest. When Rosalind, who has disguised herself as a man, discovers beautiful love poems on trees etched by Orlando, she decides to befriend Orlando while under disguise, leading to hijinks and misadventure. Meanwhile, other inhabitants of the Forest of Arden, including the melancholic Jacques and Rosalind’s father Duke Senior, find themselves unwittingly involved in the comedic tale.
The Forest of Arden exists in a simple but effective set represented by a wood floor, piano and low-hanging lights with ever-changing colors. Lighting designer Mike Baldassari’s work here is stunning; the lights are used to signify many different moments and objects in the world of the play. The production design in general is very strong, from the jazz-era costumes by designer Ann Hould Ward, to the wig and hair design by J. Jared Janas. Director John Doyle, who also designed the set, has created a beautiful, self-contained world with minimal staging and props, allowing the actors and the text to take center stage.
The performances are great across the board, with actors able to show off their many talents, from dancing to singing to playing instruments. Quincy Tyler Bernstine plays the sheltered Celia as amusingly out-of-place in the Forest of Arden and its quirky inhabitants. Kyle Scatcliffe’s Orlando is instantly appealing, with a kind and gentle air mixed with a fierce sense of justice. As the quiet Anna and the goofy Audrey, Cass Morgan is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Leenya Rideout, who plays Phoebe, plays several instruments and provides the show with some of its funniest moments as she lusts after Rosalind, mistaking her for a man. Bob Stillman is a warm, welcome presence as Duke Senior. But it is Ellen Burstyn who simply stops the show with her staggering “all the world’s a stage” monologue, lending the necessary gravitas to one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches. Burstyn also slays with one-liners throughout the show, particularly in her side-splitting delivery of “God buy you; let’s meet as little as we can.”
Schwartz’s songs transform various Shakespeare speeches into catchy, lovely tunes inspired by the jazz era. The songs are both lively and poignant; the full cast number at the end of the first act is particularly stirring, as is the finale.
As You Like It is a fitting end to a strong season at Bay Street Theater. A colorful comedy set in a whimsical world of wacky characters played by an assured cast, this slick production is As You Like It like you’ve never seen before.
As You Like It plays at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, through September 3. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.