Park Avenue Armory
New York City
Something is threatening to upstage what is “arguably the world’s premier Shakespeare company,” said Jesse Oxfeld in The New York Observer. That would be the stage itself—a 975-seat, full-scale replica of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon that was built in Britain and “schlepped to New York in 46 shipping containers.” Set up inside the Park Avenue Armory, it “provides a deeply intimate setting” for the company’s six-week residency. Still, “the theater’s not the thing; the plays are,” and the RSC’s predictably excellent actors more than hold their own.
In fact, “there’s so much to recommend this lovely, lucid, laugh-packed production it’s hard to know where to begin,” said Scott Brown in New York. While many actresses who play Rosalind are “swallowed up” by the character’s cross-dressing gambits, that’s hardly a problem for Katy Stephens. As the royal exile who adopts drag first to survive and later to serve as a “love guru” to her beloved Orlando, “Stephens charts Rosalind’s progress from sexually imprisoned girl to sexually liberated boy to full-bodied woman masterfully, nimbly, and naturally.” The heroic but dim-witted Orlando, meanwhile, is winningly played by Jonjo O’Neill, who makes an excellent foil for Charles Aitken’s clowning turn as Orlando’s “haplessly evil” brother Oliver.
Despite all the laughs, an “unsettling chill” runs through the production, said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. The first act has a decidedly dark mood, as Orlando protests his brother’s cruelty, and Rosalind and her cousin Celia come off more like “sniping sisters” than friends about to embark on an adventure. Yet as the mood brightens after intermission and the hero and heroine marry, the characters’ early peril begins to feel fitting. The shift in mood nicely captures Shakespeare’s vision of “the transforming power of love.” It also makes clear that the RSC’s too-brief visit is “unquestionably the theatrical event of the New York summer.”