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A CurtainUp Review
As You Like It

All the world's a stage. — Jacques
Wouldn't it be delightful if Shakespeare's As You Like It could be jazzed up with the wild imagery of Maurice Sendak? Dream no more. The Acting Company has done just that with their new production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy at the New Victory Theater. Far from a theatrical confection, this production brings out the Bard's dark comic vision through larger-than-life puppetry, jazzy dancing and music, and a very talented ensemble.

The show work first and foremost because the acting ensemble brims with genuine talent. They are bold, energetic, and possess strong dramatic instincts which surface time and again during the 2-hour long show.

Elizabeth Stahlmann, as the bonny Rosalind, is excellent. When she scolds the foolish young lovers Phoebe and Silvius ("Tis such fools as you/That makes the world full of ill-favoured children.") for their love spat in Act 3, she simultaneously eyes the audience, as if wagging a moral finger that playfully insinuates that we are the living descendants of this pastoral couple.

Another fine performance is turned in by Chris Thorn as the cynical philosopher Jacques. Thorn's Jacques is both physically and verbally agile, and knows how to puncture any lover's dream in a blink. The rest of the ensemble meet their dramatic moments with exuberance and savvy. There's no dull acting from this troupe.

Dan Rothenberg's innovative directing is another plus. Rothenberg, who is the co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company, manages to tap into Sendak's seminal 1963 children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, and somehow make it all of a piece with Shakespeare. If you think you are familiar with all the ins and outs of the Forest of Arden, Rothenberg re-introduces its pastoral terrain in a more exotic, and dangerous, light. His blocking of scenes is superb. He has Orlando's oldest brother Oliver (Buddy Hardt), knife in hand, circling around a tall evergreen tree in a deadly hide-and-seek game with a gentler character. Rothenberg makes Arden sing in a slightly off-beat key, and it serves to re-invigorate some of its clich├ęs.

The puppetry is charming and designed to be worn by the performers as giant headpieces. Whether we are looking at a faux rooster, frog, or owl, it looks straight out of the pages of Sendak's picture book but has remarkably gained three dimensions. Add in Michael Kiley's music, Sarah Sanford's choreography, and the theatrical energy revs up to perfection in this frolic-some production. Everybody on stage really kicks up their heels and dances to the jazzy infectious rhythms and beats.

This show coincides with the Acting Company's 40th anniversary season, and The New Victory Theater's well-earned 2012 Drama Desk Award for "providing enchanted, sophisticated children's theater that appeals to the child in all of us . . ." Clearly, this As You Like It brings that accolade into the present tense and gives new dramatic muscle to this New York institution, which began its mission in 1995. A quick scan of the audience revealed that it wasn't only youngsters and their caretakers whose eyes were riveted to the stage. Yes, the production's target audience is youngsters over 12, but it's definitely for anybody who wants to get back in touch with their inner child.

The shortcoming of this As You Like it is its all too brief run. So I can only urge you grab the nearest youngstr (or young-at-heart friend) and catch it before it shutters.

As You Like It
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dan Rothenberg
Cast: Megan Bartle (Celia), Buddy Haardt (Oliver), Kelsey Landon (Phoebe), Michael McDonald (Silvius/Le Beau), Noah Putterman (Amiens/William) and Elizabeth Stahlmann (Rosalind), Jasmine Bracey (Audrey), Ray Chapman (Duke Frederick/Sir Archibald Martext), Joseph Midyett (Orlando) and Chris Thorn (Jacques), Christopher Michael McFarland (Touchstone), Joseph Tisa (Adam/Corin) and Yaegel T. Welch (Duke Senior/Charles the Wrestler).
Michael Chybowski (Lighting Design), Felix Ivanoff (Fight Direction), Michael Kiley (Music and Sound Design), Sarah Sanford (Choreography), Matt Saunders (Scenic Design), Terese Wadden (Costume Design), Andrew Wade (Voice and Speech), Gina Noele Odierno (Production Stage Manager).
The New Victory Theater at 209 W 42nd Street. Tickets: $14-$38. Phone 646/223-3010 or visit online
From 3/01/13; closing 3/10/13.
Remaining performances: Thursday through Saturday @ 7pm; Saturday matinee @ 2pm; Sunday matinee @ 3pm
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 3/01/13
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