Shakespeare's As You Like It is a crowd-pleaser, a spirited comedy rife with wordplay, falling in love and mistaken identity. Last summer's stunning production of the play for New York City's annual Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre showed how well its forested setting and musical numbers lend themselves to an outdoor presentation; the result was a joyful, funny and at times melancholy production, reset in 19th-century Appalachia. Bare Theatre artistic director Heather J. Strickland may have taken a cue from the New York version's success when she, too, chose to place As You Like It outside, staging it in Raleigh Little Theatre's Stephenson Amphitheatre, placing the action in the Southern backwoods of the 1800s and commissioning local folk band The Zinc Kings to write and perform original bluegrass songs that thread through the production.
The music is fun and lively, and late summer weather makes for a beautiful evening outdoors. But the production is marred by an overreliance on hokey physical humor (actor in bear suit), the reduction of characters to stereotypes and, most notably, a malfunctioning sound system that, between high-frequency static and microphones randomly cutting out, rendered large chunks of dialogue inaudible on Saturday night. The terrible sound was no fault of the actors, of course, and they had to be applauded for pushing through unflaggingly. But even when sound was temporarily clear, the plotline wasn't. Over-the-top gestures and gimmicks may make for easy laughs—and may have been designed to keep the audience's attention through long speeches—but the result was a loss of believability, stakes and clarity that overshadowed the innate humor of the text.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Guiding lies."