AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare. Directed by Louis W. Scheeder; set and lighting by Hugh Lester; costumes by Hilary A. Sherred; music by William Penn; choreography by Virginia Freeman. With Helen Carey, Michael Tolaydo, Glynis Bell, Leonard Cimino, Ralph Cosham, David Cromwel, Cynthia Crumlish, Ray Aranha, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Marc Lee Adams, Karen Bayly, Jim Beard, Richard Cochrane, Howard Levy, Nick Mathwick, Shepard Sobel, Eric Zwemer, Richard Dix, Wesley Grant, William Preston and Stuart Lerch. At the Folger through July 15.
Conflict? What conflict?
"As You Like It" defies all the rules by which dramas are supposed to be constructed. It has been defying them triumphantly for nearly 400 years, and it was its old defiant and triumphant self on the stage of the Folger Theatre last night.
The tenants of the Forest of Arden struggle not so much to overcome adversity as to maintain the pretense that there is adversity in need of overcoming. True, a beneficent duke has been banished by his sinister brother duke, but what choicer spot to be banished to than this leaf-bound utopia where one finds "tongues in trees, books in the running brook, sermons in stones, and good in everything?"
The most winning element of the evening is Helen Carey as Rosalind, giving a performance as spontaneous and rhapsodic as the play itself.
How many "As You Like Its" have been victimized by unspeakably cute and calculating Rosalinds? But Carey, with an airily mellifluous voice and a cool wit in charge of it, makes Rosalind at once helpless in her love for Orlando and masterful in her manipulation of him.
The worst thing to be said about her performance is that she is certainly not taller, as the text insists she must be, than Glynis Bell as her beloved cousin Celia.
But since a taller Rosalind or a shorter Celia would have to mean sacrificing one or the other of these excellent actresses, it is easy to see why Louis W. Scheeder, the director, chose to bend his measure slightly instead.
Otherwise, Scheeder has bent very little. He has simply strived to present a solid, graceful and thoroughly conventional "As You Like It," and succeeded.
Some members of the supporting cast make mashed potatoes of their long speeches, but the acting, by and large, lives up to a commendable standard of vigorous clarity.
As Orlando, Michael Tolaydo manages to avoid the temptation to go drippy as commendably as Carey has avoided the temptation to go cute. Thanks to these two, this is one "As You Like It" which does not ask us to wait patiently for the romantic leads to finish their business and make way for Jaques, Phebe, Touchstone and their fellow forest eccentrics.
But the forest is quite credibly populated. Stuart Lerch makes a delightfully gloomy Jaques by the device of virtually never changing the somber expression on his face even as he delivers fairly sprightly readings of his lines. David Cromwell may do a little more whining and a little less clowning than he should as Touchstone, but if so, the balance is only a slight, fixable notch off center.
The forest itself - not an insignificant aspect of any "As You Like It" - consists of one tremendous tree whose branches disperse into the rafters and hang over the audience as well as the stage.Those branches seem to be inviting us to share in the magic therapy of this place which obliges its immigrants to shed all evil thoughts as they enter.
It is an invitation well worth accepting. CAPTION: Picture, Eric Zwemer, Helen Carey and Cynthia Crumlish by Harry Naltchayan.