Many years ago I asked a director why characters onstage couldn't merely sit around a dining room table, why they had to move, circle the table, stand downstage—in other words why the need for blocking? It propels the narrative, she responded insistently. That response rang in my head watching Sir Peter Hall's direction of this Shakespearean comedic chestnut. Nothing is propelled here: not the narrative, slight as it may be, but also certainly not the witticisms, the philosophies, the cheeriness that are the pleasures of the play.
What was Sir Peter's purpose in bringing this play to an audience? Nothing is particularly elucidating, innovative, entertaining in his direction. It serves as a showcase for his daughter Rebecca Hall; she is not now material for Juliet, Kate, Portia, not yet ready for Lady Macbeth and Gertrude. But the role of Rosalind is not a perfect showcase for her. Hall has an elegant voice but a slightly self-conscious physicality, and she puts no noteworthy personality on the role.
The set and the lighting design—barring a few distracting shadows—in the Forest of Arden scenes are entrancing, luring the viewer into the harmonious, verdant, and seemingly safe world. Unfortunately we dare take our eyes off the actors to daydream action and views beyond the stage. Bringing us back to attention are the talents of the senior generation onstage. James Laurenson doubling as both dukes, Michael Siberry as Touchstone, Philip Voss as Jaques, and David Barnaby as the old servant Adam know how to fill a theatre with characterization and create interest without stealing focus.
So, to dig in search of gold, I began watching the production through binoculars. As under a microscope, a different picture springs into view. The work of Dan Stevens as Orlando and Rebecca Callard as Celia, along with moments of Hall's, seems made for more intimate theatres. Their faces tell stories, glances show thoughts, breaths show feelings. I should have also asked that director to explain at what point acting becomes "big." Perhaps a bit of that might have helped here.
"As You Like It," presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. (Feb. 13 & 27 and Mar. 13 & 27 only). Feb. 7-Mar. 27. $20-60. (213) 628-2772.