At the start of John Doyle’s Classic Stage Company As You Like It production, nine members of the cast are gathered around the 10th, Ellyn Burstyn. She’s seated, as Jacques, in a bulky brown suit and reading from a bulky volume that could be the collected William Shakespeare plays. The implication seems to be that what’s on the page is what’s about to unfold on director-set designer Doyle’s stage, a capacious space featuring most prominently 50 or so acorn shaped hanging lights.
Designer Mike Baldassari will change the color of those lights (predominantly green denoting the Arden forest) when the tale of Rosalind (Hannah Cabell) and BFF Celia (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) unfolds with them encountering rainbow-hued adventures, most notably with hunk-y Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe), after all three have run from the unwelcome court of Duke Frederick (Bob Stillman).
There’s something admirably loose at the way Doyle tells the story. Perhaps it takes its cue from Jacques’s loose-fitting outfit. (Ann Hould-Ward puts the entire cast in informal get-ups, except for the crinolined frocks Rosaiind and Celia wear before running off.)
Because the entire enterprise has the come-what-may feel to it—including commandeering an audience member to read the small part of William—it has an overall easy appeal. Much of it comes across as understated even at times when the characters are comically overstated.
In any As You Like It, the Bard’s most famous “All the world’s a stage” speech receives close attention. Here, Burstyn, donning melancholy like a shroud, delivers the famous lines as somewhere between a throwaway screed and an elegy. It’s a well-nigh perfect interpretation.
Throughout, the other take-it-lightly group accomplishments include Cabell’s manly strides when Rosalind is pretending to be Ganymede as well as work-looks-like-play contributions from Bernstine, Scatliffe, Stillman, André De Shields, Leenya Rideout, Noah Brody (on a Fiasco Theater break,) Cass Morgan and David Samuel.
Stephen Schwartz—of the many Broadway credits (Wicked, of course)—supplies music that Stillman plays at a piano, Rideout plays on violin and Morgan plays on ukulele. Doyle’s partiality to actors who play instruments is a key element yet again.
A nice touch is having Orlando’s paeans to Rosalind sung. (N. B.: This is the second heavily musicalized As You Like It this month, the other being the Public Works version with its Shaina Taub ditties.)
Do notice that at the finale the four couples united are mixed. Is a statement being made? It is, whether intentional or not, and certainly it’s a welcome vision for these racism-stuffed parlous days.
George Kelly’s Broadway plays include The Torch-Bearers (a very early Katharine Hepburn appearance), Craig’s Wife (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize) and The Show-Off. Yet, these days he may be best known as Grace Kelly’s uncle.
Dan Wackerman’s Peccadillo Theater Company is doing its gallant bit to revive interest in playwright Kelly with its super production of The Show-Off. The comedy was last seen prominently in these parts 50 years ago with Helen Hayes as the besieged Mrs. Fisher. The tells-it-like-it-is woman is played now by Annette O’Toole, who has absolutely no reason to worry that she isn’t up to the former First Lady of the American Theater’s interpretation.
O’Toole, fast establishing herself as one of the City’s foremost character women, is the Fisher family mother. Her immediate worry is that younger daughter Amy (Emma Orelove)—usually locked in sibling animosity with older daughter Clara (Elise Hudson)—has been getting serious with the toupee wearing relentless blowhard/lazy man about town Aubrey Piper (Ian Gould).
Mrs. Fisher and Aubrey tangle before and after Amy and he tie a gnarly knot. Cavalier about the problems he causes the Fishers, Aubrey threatens to bring the group to deep trouble—so much so that audience members may begin to suspect the wily Mrs. Fisher will have get the ignominious drop on him by fade-out.
In a series of clever plot fiddling—where inventor brother Joe (Tirosh Schneider) runs around trying to complete a crystal radio and a formula for rust prevention—Kelly keeps his cards close to his playwright’s chest. As possibly his best achievement he keeps Aubrey one of those figures you love to hate. Kelly is also basilisk-eyed about marriages that look happy but aren’t as opposed to marriages that should be unhappy but are.
Director Wackerman is—I think they saying goes—a dab hand at these wonderful American chestnuts. The cast measures up to everything he’s obviously asked of them. Harry Feiner’s set for a middle-class North Philadelphia home in 1924 is just about perfect, as are Barbara A. Bell’s costumes. A special hand for Paul Huntley’s wigs—Irish red for Mrs. Fisher, Clara and Amy.
In The Show-Off, one of the worst things that could possibly befall a person is having to move to Trenton, New Jersey. I suppose reviewers like me born in that benighted burg are just expected to grin and bear it.
Mary Jane (Carrie Coon) is tending to (unseen) two-and-a-half-year-old Alex, born at 25 weeks and four days. Although she has a job, she rarely gets around to it for having to be the suffering tyke’s major carer. The father, Danny, also unseen, has shoved off long before Amy Herzog’s Mary Jane begins.
For 90 intermissionless minutes, title figure Mary Jane at first tends to Alex on Laura Jellinek’s smart notion of a spare but accommodating home and then at the hospital where for the umpteenth time Alex has had to be brought. Throughout, the predominantly capable and patient woman is helped by nurses and doctors. (Lisa Colon-Zayas is one and, in doubling capacity, as reliable as ever).
Mary Jane also has handywoman Ruthie (Brenda Werle) in whom to confide. Then, late in the measured action Orthodox Jew Chaya (Susan Pourfar, in sheytl) and Buddhist chaplain Tenkel (Werle) offer comforting and and amusing advice.
There can be no question about the seriousness with which Herzog has tended to her work—in, by the way, a sometimes hermetically sealed play about women, requiring (extremely sympathetic) female actors only. Bolstered by Anne Kauffman’s stringently compassionate direction, the playwright more than competently gives three-dimensional life to what is a case history with full details, and as such occasionally slows down on the dramatic beam.
That may be why the Chaya/Tenkel scenes coming at the very end of Mary Jane are welcome for the humor coaxed from misfortune. It may be that with closing with these segments, Herzog doesn’t quite find the entirely satisfying ending to her Mary Jane (a title that’s not overly evocative), but at least those glimpses do leaven a work effectively poignant and obviously very personal.