'As You Like It'
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Through June 16.
Where: Cockpit in Court, Essex Community College.
"As You Like It" is one of Shakespeare's most pastoral romantic comedies. So you might describe Cockpit in Court's 1960s-style, al fresco rendition as flower-power Shakespeare. And the concept almost works.
Director Carol Mason transports the initial court scenes to an office setting. Evil Duke Frederick is a Donald Trump-style ruthless boss, slickly played by Bill Chappelle.
Against this background, the retreat to the woods by the principals -- the Duke's daughter, Celia, her cousin, Rosalind, and Rosalind's love interest, Orlando -- can be seen as a classic 1960s rebellion against the Establishment.
The trouble is, once the action shifts to the forest, the anti-Establishment theme virtually disappears. From then on, it's You Like It" as we've always known it -- plus a couple of peace signs, some love beads and folk music.
So what if Rosalind's father, the banished Duke Senior, is now heading a hippie commune? In the final scene, when his former wealth and position are restored, he's all too eager to return to the big city, where he will no doubt replace his brother, Duke Frederick, as the new Donald Trump.
But "As You Like It" isn't merely about the contrasting virtues of city vs. country life. Primarily, it is about love -- on a variety of levels. There's the love between the rustics of the forest; the love of good friends, Celia and Rosalind; and, most of all, the love of Orlando for Rosalind, which is complicated by the fact that she disguises herself as a man once she sets off for the forest.
Here the production runs into another snag. Ms. Mason has cast two young actors, Matthew Sherman and Crista Yagjian, as Orlando and Rosalind. They're brimming with youthful vitality, but there's a degree of dignity and self-assurance missing, particularly in Ms. Yagjian's Rosalind, who appears more petulant than strong-willed and wise.
This lack becomes especially evident when Philippa Hailstone shows up in the smaller role of Phebe, one of the rustic lovers, and immediately takes command of the stage; it would have been interesting to see how she would have handled the role of Rosalind.
Other solid performances are delivered by Sean McDonough, who turns the cynical Jaques into a 1960s folk hero, and Edwyn Williams, who is energetic and broadly comic as Touchstone, the clown.
Ms. Mason stages the quadruple weddings at the end as a love-in, set to the strains of "The Times They Are a-Changin.'" But little more than the time seems to have changed here. In the materialistic 1990s, we don't seem to have learned much from the 1960s, and these characters don't, either.