Christian Camargo (Photo by Joan Marcus, 2010)
NEW YORK – The Bridge Project, director Sam Mendes’s admirable effort that unites the finest American and British actors to tackle the best in classical theater, is back for a second season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre. Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” is its first show of the season.
The other is “The Tempest,” which I haven’t seen yet.
Mr. Mendes has an iconoclastic take on “As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most treasured and well-known comedies.
Taking a cue from the text, Mr. Mendes begins the play darkly – the play’s imagery is full of cold, desolate, wintry allusions – and the actions that take place in the court of usurper Duke Frederick are as appalling and cruel as Elsinore in “Hamlet.” Orlando (Christian Camargo), who will eventually emerge as the play’s hero, is the son of the Duke’s banished brother; he unfairly gets thrown out of court himself. Rosalind (Juliet Rylance), one of Shakespeare’s most delightful creations, is also forced to flee, disguised as a man she names Ganymede.
Mr. Mendes bravely confronts all of these nefarious goings-on seriously, only letting the sun shine in (and the play’s comedy fly) in Act Two, when everyone finally meets up in the dappled Forest of Arden. Although his perspective is interesting, it doesn’t quite work. As adventuresome as Mr. Mendes is, this “As You Like It” emerges slightly askew: a tragedy in Act One; a comedy in Act Two.
Once we do get to Arden, the comedy and humanity of the play, as well as the performances of the actors, find their footing. Ms. Rylance’s is a lyrical delight in both of her incarnations as Rosalind and Ganymede.
Mr. Camargo’s Orlando takes longer to grow on you. At first he seems like he is playing Hamlet, which he did splendidly last season at Theater for New Audiences. Thomas Sadoski, one of our best young American actors, is superb as Touchstone, one of Shakespeare’s great clowns; and the brilliant British actor Stephen Dillane brings his own special quality to that “melancholy gentleman” Jaques. Perhaps the actor having the most fun is Alvin Epstein, who is in his 80s and plays two roles, Adam, a sober servant; and Sir Oliver Martext, a hilarious country vicar.
It could be guessed that Mr. Mendes decided to pair “As You Like It” and “The Tempest” because both deal with similar themes of reconciliation and retribution. In any case, I am curious to see what he does with “The Tempest.”
“As You Like It” and “The Tempest” play in repertory at BAM through March 13 before taking off on a six-month international tour.