By Donna Herman
There is a lot of heart and a lot of talent on display at Bryant Park in the Drilling Company/Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. While it doesn’t completely overcome the obstacles that the company faces in producing a play outside in the middle of the noisy city, in the middle of a heat wave, on a miniscule budget, it kept the large audience on their blankets and hard folding chairs. Only one or two suited and sweating businesspeople who came straight from work, succumbed from the heat and left before the show was over. The rest of the incredibly diverse crowd of old and young, teenagers and grandmothers, students and office workers, stayed attentive and seated through the two and a quarter hour performance with no intermission.
Normally, their plays are staged in a parking lot on the Lower East Side. This is the 22nd season of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot and it’s the Drilling Company’s tenth year as sole producer of the free event. “As You Like It” was presented as part of their 2015 season, and brought back with expanded original music by Natalie Smith for a 3 night run as part of Bryant Park Presents this summer. The goal of bringing free Shakespeare to The Lower East Side community is admirable and audiences need to set their expectations accordingly. It’s a labor of love by the artists and technicians involved who give their time and talent for the joy of doing it.
Hamilton Clancy, the director, has set the play in an indeterminate though vaguely Victorian setting. I did wish that Rosalind (Jane Bradley) and Orlando (Andrew Gombas) had costumes that weren’t so contemporary. They looked like they’d just come out of the subway without time to change in the first half. It took until the action moved to the Forest of Arden for the whole cast to look like they were in the same play. There’s no Costume Designer listed in the credits and that could be why. I’m afraid Mr. Clancy is wearing too many hats here. He’s Artistic Director of the company, he’s playing the melancholy Jacques, an important supporting role, and directing the play. Theater is not like film, you can’t act in it and step outside yourself and view it critically enough. He’s an accomplished actor (“Orange Is The New Black”, “Billions”), which is evidenced by his portrayal of the dour Jacques with assurance. He’s obviously doing something right in keeping The Drilling Company and Shakespeare in the Parking Lot going for so long. But this production needs a ruthless hand at the helm to trim and tighten and get everyone on the same page. I’m afraid he’s the over-indulgent, tired, Dad who loves all of his children too well to discipline them.
Luckily, most of the kids don’t need instruction. Notably, Jane Bradley gives us a stunning Rosalind. A native of New England and a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, it’s no surprise that she hied herself off to Merry Olde England after graduation and studied acting at the famous London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA). Her handling of Shakespeare’s language is perfect, and allows us to follow the tricky action in Arden with absolutely no strain. She transforms herself physically into the man Ganymede with just the right touch – we believe she could fool without forgetting who she is. Rosalind’s cousin Celia, played by Elaine Ivy Harris, also handles the language extremely well, and imbues Celia with a playful physicality. American by birth, Ms. Harris spent her life from the time she was 9 months old until she went to college in London. The British really do have an affinity for the language of this Shakespeare guy.
Which is not to say the Americans in the cast don’t handle the language well. Emmanuel Elpenord as Oliver, Orlando’s evil brother not only handles the language adeptly, but gives us an interesting and nuanced performance. Andrew Gombas is a dreamy Orlando, no problem believing Rosalind fell in love immediately. He’s not only comfortable speaking the bard’s words, but singing them and playing the guitar too. A triple threat, he is by turns strong and humble, and watching the reactions of the teenaged girls on blankets in the front, it’s was easy to see him as Romeo in last season’s “Romeo and Juliet”.
Although the production was uneven, there was so much to like and enjoy, I will definitely make it a point to see their upcoming “The Merchant of Venice” which performs in the parking lot behind The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center from July 28th to August 13th Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. For more info: www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com. It will definitely be easier to see than trying to snag a “free” ticket to The Public’s production of Merchant at The Delacorte in Central Park for which you either have to wait in line for 8 hours, or pay $180 to become a member of The Public.
“As You Like It” by William Shakespeare, directed by Hamilton Clancy
WITH: Jane Bradley (Rosalind), Andrew Gombas (Orlando de Boys), Rachel Collins (Phoebe)Brandon G Reilly (Silvius), Eric Paterniani (LeBeau/William/Jacques de Boys), Bill Green (Adam/Sir Oliver Martext), Elaine Ivy Harris (Celia), Aaron Scott (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior), Amiens (Natalie Smith), Sara Glancy (Lord 1/Forrester), Whitney Rich (Lord 2/Forrester), Alessandro Colla (Touchstone), Hamilton Clancy (Jacques), Andrew Dahreddine (Charles the Wrestler/Corin), Emmanuel Elpenord (Oliver de Boys), Hayley Simmonds (Audrey), Kelsey Kyle (Forrester)
Music by Natalie Smith and Andrew Gombas; lighting by Tyler Learned; sound by Anna Grossman; sets by Leontine Greenberg; stage managers, Domenick Danza & Veronica Nolte; associate producer, Elaine Ivy Harris; production assistants, Jenna Schlags & Sarah Durn; publicity by Jonathan Slaff & Associates; graphic artist Philip De Vita