When Shakespeare sends his characters into the woods, something wondrous usually happens. There's no more transformative land than the forest of Arden in "As You Like It." Love deepens, rivalries heal, and kingdoms are righted with a hey-diddle-diddle. Despite bucolic Berkshires setting, Shakespeare & Co.'s new production is none too inviting.

When Shakespeare sends his characters into the woods, something wondrous usually happens. There’s no more transformative land than the forest of Arden in “As You Like It.” Love deepens, rivalries heal, and kingdoms are righted with a hey-diddle-diddle. Despite its bucolic Berkshires setting, Shakespeare & Co.’s new production is none too inviting: Under the misguided direction of Eleanor Holdridge, it’s a confusing, inconsistent and sloppy production.

To begin with, it’s not well-served by a spare set featuring two iron spiral staircases at the rear of the thrust stage. The Restoration Hardware look is fine for the scenes at court, but for Arden?

The costumes, too, seem to come from a bad grab bag. Silvius’ green satin outfit makes him look like the Village People’s lost shepherd. An embarrassing outfit for Touchstone makes him look too literally the fool. Rosalind’s wedding outfit is so wrong for a woman who is so right. Odd, too, that Rosalind looks little different when masquerading as a man.

In any case, Sarah Rafferty’s Rosalind is not the fiercely analytical, self-aware and remarkable woman we hope for. Though the red-haired Rafferty has some charm, humor and energy, the character’s famous intelligence is all sitcom snappy; she’s an al fresco Debra Messing. Indeed, much of the production is played with jokey rhythms that seem to call for TV laugh tracks. Kevin G. Coleman’s Touchstone has a Larry David whine, while Susannah Millonzi is playing “Sex and the Forest” as an overheated Phebe.

While Michael Milligan is properly earnest, likable and well spoken as Orlando, his pivotal scene, when he first meets Rosalind, falls flat. The actors lack the chemistry that would inspire an audience to care where this journey of love will lead.

Relationships are missed throughout the production. Orlando’s bond with his old servant Adam is a poignant one. But Dennis Krausnick plays the elderly fellow as rather hale and hearty, and his later fragility comes across abruptly. Anne Gottlieb as Celia is shrill and bossy in her early scenes with her cousin Rosalind. Their special relationship is on the wrong track from the beginning (though it improves as she softens in Arden).

Only Jonathan Epstein as the melancholy Jaques, James Robert Daniels as both Dukes, Dan McCleary as Silvius and Tony Molina in a variety of singing roles seem to be in a play and not a TV pilot. They all show assurance in their treatment of their characters and the text.

As You Like It

Founders' Theater, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, Mass; 460 seats; $56 top

Production

A Shakespeare & Co. presentation of the play by William Shakespeare in two acts. Directed by Eleanor Holdridge.

Creative

Sets, Kris Stone; costumes, Jacqueline Firkins; lighting, Lap-Chi Chu; music and sound, Scott Killian; dance and movement, Susan Dibble; voice and text coach, Elizabeth Ingram; fight director, Michael Burnet; music director, Linda Dondell; production stage manager, Molly Elizabeth McCarter. Opened June 26, 2004. Reviewed July 2. Runs through Aug. 29. Running time: 3 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Orlando - Michael Milligan Adam, Sir Oliver Martext - Dennis Krausnick Oliver, Corin - Jason Asprey Dennis, 1st Forester - Mel Cobb Charles, Silvius - Dan McCleary Rosalind - Sarah Rafferty Celia - Anne Gottlieb Touchstone - Kevin G. Coleman Le Beau, Amiens, Hymen - Tony Molina Wrestler, 4th Forester - Martin Bonger Duke Frederick, Duke Senior - James Robert Daniels Duke's Man, 2nd Forester, Jaques de Boys - Zachery Green Black Courtier, 3rd Forester, William - Nevin Kumar Hesperia, Phebe - Susannah Millonzi Jaques - Jonathan Epstein Audrey - Ariel Bock

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