One of the most vivid moments in director Dan Rothenberg's "As You Like It" is also one of the production's most glib. It comes nearly halfway through the first act of this pastoral Shakespearean comedy about usurping power and crazy-making love.
Le Beau (Michael McDonald) warns young nobleman Orlando (Joseph Midyett) to flee the court or face danger. The new duke is in no mood to have Orlando around, especially since Orlando has taken a shine to the duke's niece, Rosalind (Elizabeth Stahlmann). After usurping the crown from his brother, the duke kept Rosalind around as company for his own daughter, Celia (Megan Bartle).
"Fare you well," Le Beau says to Orlando, adding, "Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you."
The sexual energy feels immediate, palpable and contemporary in the production that opened Wednesday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Alas, there are only a few moments that combine such lucidity with oomph in this dutiful staging, which is set to tour the nation as part of a Shakespeare-in-America series.
A joint effort by the Guthrie and The Acting Company of New York, "As You Like It" has clear, evocative line readings. Rothenberg's studious approach keeps things flying mostly at low to medium altitude. The show often comes off as educational, rather than seizing us with theatrical imagination.
Three old record players are moved about in a stylized fashion on Matt Saunders' minimal, set accented with spruce trees. The recordings evoke winds, animal sounds and other elements in this play that takes place mostly in the forest.
The show does boast some laudable performances by its youthful cast. Stahlmann is solid as Rosalind, delivering with an air of openness and wonder. Her sure-footed lover is a fine match for Midyett's Orlando, a character made mad by love. The actor bears his burdens with diffidence and eruptive passion. Bartle is a little squawky as Rosalind's wing-woman, Celia. Her Midwestern diction seems odd in the Elizabethan forest setting, even if you get used to it after a while.
The show has memorable performances by McDonald, a leaping, live-wire who is winning as both gay-inflected Le Beau and the lusty, heterosexual shepherd Silvius. Yaegel T. Welch also turns in smooth performances as Charles the Wrestler and wise, overthrown Duke Senior. This "As You Like it" could use more of their presence and verve.
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390