Since it began 50 years ago, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte has long been known for diverse audiences queuing all day, actors bravely mouthing iambs through mosquito swarms or the odd raccoon stealing a scene. More recently, though, it’s been hard to imagine the institution without Daniel Sullivan. The master director has steered a number of strikingly coherent Delacorte productions. With As You Like It, the director’s fifth alfresco Bard since 2007, Sullivan does it again: Shakespeare’s comedy is cleverly set on the 19th-century American frontier, complete with rifles, fiddlers and yards of buckram. Hope and hardship contend earnestly in the manifest destiny of true love.
The concept—pioneers westward-ho-ing in a wilderness where they must defend against the elements and hunger—fits nicely with the pastoral romance. Instead of the court, we have a fort. The play’s incidental lyrics have been set to wistful, whirling bluegrass by Steve Martin, performed with zest by a traveling band. (We’ll pass over in silence the absence of Native Americans.) The cross-historical translation doesn’t extend much past that. Sullivan knows how to give audiences a few bits of cultural shorthand, make sure the actors know what they’re saying, then get out of the way.
And what a bright, charming ensemble this is. Lily Rabe takes on the sparkling but thorny Rosalind and injects her witticisms and verbal flights with sadness. When Rosalind loves hardest, then she weeps. From the often-thankless role of Celia, Rosalind’s sidekick, the lovely Renee Elise Goldsberry strikes a few sassy notes. David Furr makes for a bashful but dashing Orlando. And Stephen Spinella luxuriates in Jaques’s vinegary melancholia. As usual, Sullivan maintains a steady, clarifying pace (expect to leave the park at 11pm), but with a great conductor in control, you are happy to savor every woodland note.—David Cote
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