The Forest of Arden is the place you head when town received’t maintain you. When legal guidelines are unjust, when customized constricts, when establishments squeeze and shrink you, right here, ultimately, is house to breathe and to be. Manhattan razed its woodlands way back, in fact. (A lone stand of timber, in Inwood Hill Park, stays.) However on a summer time evening, in Central Park, squint just a little and you’ll think about a forest right here — the refuge, the bounty, the hush.
You received’t should squint arduous at “As You Like It,” the shimmering Shakespeare adaptation on the Delacorte Theater, courtesy of Public Works. Tailored by Laurie Woolery, who directs, and the singer-songwriter Shaina Taub, who gives the music and lyrics, this easeful, intentional present bestows the pleasures typical of a Shakespeare comedy — journey, disguise, a number of marriages, pentameter for days. And, in simply 90 minutes, it unites its dozens of actors and its tons of of viewers members as residents of the identical joyful group.
Taub and Woolery’s adaptation retains the define of the unique, whereas shortening and tightening the talkier bits, making house for songs. Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi Jones), the daughter of the exiled Duke Senior (Darius De Haas), falls immediately for Orlando (Ato Blankson-Wooden), the youthful son of a lifeless nobleman. Threatened by the present Duke (Eric Pierre), they flee, with associates and servants, to the Forest of Arden, the place Duke Senior has shaped an alternate, extra egalitarian court docket.
Taub has solid herself as Jaques, the emo thinker, who opens the present with the limpid ballad, “All of the World’s a Stage,” singing: “All of the world’s a stage/And all people’s within the present/No person’s a professional.”
These lyrics do a variety of work, work that transcends paraphrase. “As You Like It” is a manufacturing of Public Works, a division of the Public Theater that companions with group teams. So the tune serves as a sort of pre-emptive apology, an acknowledgment of amateurism. But the traces perform as an invite, too, an inducement to think about your self as a part of the present, to hitch in its creation. A giant ask? Perhaps. On a breeze-soothed night, with town quieted and the lights aglow, it received’t really feel that approach. And for many who blench and tremble on the considered viewers participation, take a breath. You don’t even should sing alongside, although you could need to.
I first noticed “As You Like It” throughout a brief run on the Delacorte Theater in the summertime of 2017, after the journey bans had been instituted, however earlier than the widespread adoption of the Trump administration’s household separation coverage. All scrolling felt like doom scrolling then; to open the morning paper was to start out the day with some recent horror. Issues may — and did — worsen. I bear in mind experiencing the present, profoundly and with some tears, as a short lived respite.
To revisit it now, when catastrophe appears much less quick, is to chill out into the brisk pleasure of the work. Jones, an actress with a voice of metal and sweetness, like a knife baked right into a birthday cake, is a dynamic Rosalind. And in the event you admired Blankson-Wooden in “Slave Play,” you’ll take pleasure in his playful flip right here, as within the exuberant R&B quantity, “Will U Be My Bride.” However the present’s success owes much less to any particular person performer than to the beneficiant and sociable entire. Taub’s lyrics are easy, but it surely takes effort to jot down traces that really feel easy. The identical goes for Sonya Tayeh’s fluid choreography, restaged by Billy Griffin and achievable for all types of our bodies, and Woolery’s insouciant use of stage house.
The stage itself has an oddly flimsy set, by Myung Hee Cho, a turntable dotted with timber that don’t look loads like timber. However Emilio Sosa’s costumes and Isabella Byrd’s lights present completely satisfied splashes of coloration. James Ortiz designed the deer puppets; in the event that they lack the emotional heft of the cow he designed for the present revival of “Into the Woods,” nicely, you’ll be able to’t have all the pieces. That “Into the Woods” revival is directed by Lear deBessonet, who inaugurated Public Works, which Woolery now leads. Small surprise then, however surprise all the identical, that the 2 most joyous exhibits in New York proper now, the 2 most engaged with questions of group and responsibility and care, have this shared maternity.
If “As You Like It” succeeds as leisure — and it does, fluently, sufficient to make you surprise if Shakespeare within the Park ought to keep on with comedies and musicals and perhaps the occasional romance — it articulates and solutions graver considerations. There’s a persistent concern in American politics that to grant freedom is to ask anarchy. “As You Like It” provides one other risk. There is no such thing as a rule of legislation within the Forest of Arden. However fairly than descend into riot, its inhabitants observe mutual help. They reside in concord, figuratively and — when De Haas swoops over and across the melody — actually.
This confirms Woolery and Taub’s adaptation as a sort of thought experiment: What may occur if a group had been free to find out its personal greatest rules and practices? As a result of “As You Like It” swells its solid with the members of accomplice organizations — Home Staff United, Army Resilience Basis and Kids’s Help, amongst them — the present can be proof of idea. There’s hierarchy right here, in fact. The route is by Woolery alone and the parents with Fairness playing cards occupy the prime roles. (To place the deceive Taub’s lyrics, someone’s a professional.)
But when the theater had been actually made welcoming and accessible to all, that is what it’d manifest — a stage bursting with performers numerous in age, race, dimension, behavior and circumstance, an viewers distributed throughout an analogous spectrum. “As You Like It” provides that uncommon factor — a New York theater that appears like town itself and looks like a promise of what town, at its greatest, may very well be.
What a feat that’s. And what a present. So go forward. Wait in line after which stroll to the theater by way of the cover of timber. Shelter right here awhile.
As You Like ItThrough Sept. 11 on the Delacorte Theater, Manhattan; publictheater.org. Operating time: 1 hour half-hour.