“As You Like It” runs at Classic Stage Company through Oct. 22. 136 E. 13th St., classicstage.org
Is this really the Forest of Arden? It looks more like an Appalachian jazz bar, with a piano, wooden plank floors, brick walls and low-hanging pendant globe lighting. The customers include an androgynously dressed, soliloquizing Ellen Burstyn and an umbrella-toting, strutting André De Shields.
John Doyle, the Scottish director known for minimalist revivals of classics and musicals (including “The Color Purple”), opens Classic Stage Company’s new Off-Broadway season with Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy “As You Like It.”
The streamlined production runs 100 minutes, without intermission, and is apparently set in the Jazz Age. Some pastiche period music by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”) is played live by several cast members, including the resourceful Bob Stillman at the piano.
Doyle’s textual cuts are so numerous that the play becomes too choppy. The transition from the royal court to the woods is also muted due to the bare, all-purpose scenic design.
Nevertheless, the intimate production is mostly enjoyable, possessing a speed and seamlessness that suits the play’s whimsical nature, in which fortunes and identities come and go in a flash. The audience (sitting in a three-quarter configuration) receives a good deal of attention, and one lucky guy is even selected for a cameo (receiving his lines on a piece of paper).
The cast is excellent, including Burstyn (unusually tender as the philosophizing Jaques, who delivers the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech), De Shields (suave and flashy as the fool Touchstone), Hannah Cabell (whose Rosalind comes to life with vigor once she secretly takes on a male identity), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (who brings attitude to the typically forgettable role of Rosalind’s cousin Celia) and Kyle Scatliffe (bursting with sincerity as young Orlando).