On Stage: Rosalind’s the Thing

by Chuck Conconi

REVIEW: Zoe Waites lifts Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘As You Like It.’

Zoë Waites as Rosalind, Adina Verson as Celia and Andrew Weems as Touchstone in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman

Zoë Waites, Adina Verson and Andrew Weems in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It.’ (Photo by Scott Suchman)

There is no question that witnessing the remarkable performance of Zoe Waites performing Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most nuanced feminine roles, is the highlight of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “As You Like It.”

Director Michael Attenborough clearly understood that this crucial role is best envisioned by Waites, a fellow British actor with whom he has worked before. Shakespeare’s Rosalind dominates the play from beginning to end. She is a modern figure and Waites, who moves with the grace of a ballet dancer, effectively carries off the usual Shakespearean contrivance of disguising herself as a boy.

Waites has a lithe form and a countenance that projects subtle femininity, but with more intelligence than softness. And Rosalind is more than just a pretty face. In Waites’ intelligent interpretation, Rosalind is the highlight of what is generally a static production.

There is little of any color in a drab, empty stage designed by Jonathan Fensom, who also designed the everyday casual costumes that often resemble something the performers wore to rehearsals. The one bright moment occurs when Waites and her loyal cousin Celia (Adina Verson) appear through large double doors at the back of the stage. Both are in elegant ball gowns, but that image soon becomes a fleeting memory. That’s that for any color for the remainder of the play.

Soaring, unadorned brown wooden walls serve as the backdrop for much of the play. When the action moves to the forest of Arden, short curtains are stretched across the stage with batik-like splotches to evoke trees. It seems to be a new definition of minimalism. It doesn’t work.

“As You Like It” runs nearly three hours and the pace would have been improved with some judicious trimming. Attenborough assembled a competent large cast with another especially standout performance by Derek Smith as Jaques, a gloomy poet who recites the familiar “The Seven Ages of Man” speech. Te’La Curtis Lee, who has the thankless role of Hymen, the goddess of marriage, wanders across the stage from time to time looking like she doesn’t belong in the production. Her character could have been edited out.

If there is any reason for investing the time to see this production, it is to experience Zoe Waites’ Rosalind and some of the other impressive performances that rise above Attenborough’s vision of Shakespeare’s comedy.

As You Like It” continues through December 14, 2014 at Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW. Tickets are $20-$100 and available at 202-547-1122 and online here.

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