Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tragic motes & motley coats

As You Like It is billed as a comedy, and in its sugar-coated marriage finale BAM's Bridge Project adaptation lives up to this. But the play is constantly hinting at the ways that tragedy refuses to go away. The first act ends in the delicate death of Adam--Alvin Epstein who plays the starving elderly servant, slips away so gently in Orlando's arms, that the simplicity of the moment is made the more momentous for its being under-acted.

His death is a morbid counterpart to the boisterous finale. Adam (whose name suggests not only the first man but also the first mortal man) haunts the rest of the play in which characters are so often enjoined to be happy--"Prithee, be cheerful," and "search for cheer." When the singers gorgeously intone "This life is most jolly" the melancholic tune Sam Mendes has chosen for it, suggests the very opposite. When Jacques, who renounces the pleasures of companionship, remarks that he envies foolish Touchstone's "motley coat" of speech, we might recognize that each comedy is rendered happy only through its patches of sadness. The cloud is silver but its lining is dark.

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