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An Ardent Forest in Central Park: 'As You Like It'

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For fans of romantic comedy, a play that ends with three weddings is the ultimate fantasy. As You Like It, this summer's first Shakespeare in the Park offering in its 50th year, is a celebration from the first banjo strums to the dancing at end with Lily Rabe (Rosalind/ Ganymede), so fine at company's center. A natural crowd-pleaser, As You Like It as directed by Daniel Sullivan, rises to the traditional Shakespearean hilarity while grounded on John Lee Beatty's sets in the magnificent park: a log fort, trees fit for tacking on love poems -- this enchanting forest appears to go forever.

The plot involves couplings: Two brothers. One usurps the throne. The other goes into exile in the Forest of Arden. Their daughters, Rosalind and Celia, stay in court as playmates. Two younger brothers, Orlando and Oliver, also vie for power. Rosalind and Orlando fall in love. Banished from court by her uncle, Rosalind disguises herself as Ganymede, a young swain, and heads for the forest to seek her father. Scenes of mismatched lovers and irresponsible leaders ensue, until by Shakespearean magic, a pleasure to behold, all is set right. The principle themes: the virtues of family and marital love, the problems of sibling rivalry, even the most brutal aspects of bad leadership soften in this forest, an alternate bucolic kingdom.

Oliver Platt is loveable as Touchstone, wooing a saucy goatherd Audrey (Donna Lynne Champlin). David Furr's Orlando and Renee Elise Goldsberry's Celia complement Lily Rabe's elegant performance. Andre Braugher, well cast as Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, keeps these leaders distinct while showing that as brothers, they are flip sides of one another. That this production is set in the 19th century American South may explain why Stephen Spinella's Jaques looks a bit like Lincoln as he balances the play's frivolity in heady philosophies. Taking a path through the woods, he leaves the excellent ensemble to its joyous finale.

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