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Reviewed by:
  • As You Like It, and: The Tempest
  • Dan Venning
As You Like It. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Sam Mendes. The Bridge Project, produced by BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, Brooklyn. 30 January 2010.
The Tempest. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Sam Mendes. The Bridge Project, produced by BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, Brooklyn. 27 February 2010.

Sam Mendes directed Shakespeare's As You Like It and The Tempest in repertory as the second year of The Bridge Project, a joint venture between BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions. The productions opened at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn before touring to Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Madrid, Recklinghausen, Amsterdam, London, Athens, and Epidaurus, Greece. With a name like "The Bridge Project" and a world tour to three continents, it would have been possible for Mendes's productions to serve as a global bridge, showing how Shakespeare can communicate across divides of language and culture; instead, because of its contribution to the hegemony of the English language, The Bridge Project was fraught with cultural imperialism, despite strong acting, directing, and design. Many aspects were very successful: Mendes demonstrated that Shakespearean actors


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Michelle Beck (Celia), Thomas Sadoski (Touchstone), and Juliet Rylance (Rosalind) in As You Like It. (Photo: Joan Marcus.)

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Christian Camargo (Orlando) in As You Like It. (Photo: Joan Marcus.)

from Britain and the United States can be understood in their native accents; his directing created works that were stylistically divergent, yet the juxtaposition of the two plays revealed fascinating thematic similarities; and the productions featured gorgeous visual effects. Nevertheless, The Bridge Project was troubling because it was a universalizing humanist project, claiming that Shakespeare in English (whether British or American) speaks to the entire world.

When The Bridge Project began in 2009 with Mendes's productions of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, critics wondered if audiences would be able to focus on the plays, since all the actors would be using different accents—their own. Everyone spoke in their individual, native valences of English. In a pre-show talk on The Tempest, Mendes stated that he began the project determined to prove that with talented actors, different accents would not even be heard, and he was right. As I quickly discovered while watching As You Like It and The Tempest, skillful acting means that accents barely signified: I had to force myself to note that the de Boys brothers Orlando (played by American Christian Camargo) and Oliver (played by the British Edward Bennett) had different accents, as did cousins Rosalind (Juliet Rylance, a British actress and stepdaughter of Mark Rylance, acclaimed Shakespearean actor and the first artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in London) and Celia (American Michelle Beck). Similarly, the accents disappeared when watching Brits Rylance (Miranda) and Stephen Dillane (Prospero) play opposite Americans Camargo (Ariel) and Ron Cephas Jones (Caliban).

The varied accents did not disrupt the performances, because the actors were, for the most part, superb. In As You Like It, the supporting characters Jacques (Dillane), Celia, and the jester Touchstone (Thomas Sadoski) stole the show. Sadoski's Touchstone originally appeared somewhat like Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit, in black tie and tails, with a clown nose, bowler hat, and giant pocket watch. Over the course of his journey to Arden and courtship with Audrey (Jenni Barber), Touchstone had to adapt, to choose to give up his ridiculous city manners in order to become an honest man, a change that was completed when he joined in singing a country round in the final act. In Arden, Jacques took over Touchstone's clown nose and became a funny and touching forest jester; at one point, Dillane even performed a spot-on Bob Dylan impersonation, including playing a harmonica. Beck played Celia, in what may have been the production's most fascinating choice, as being hopelessly in love with Rosalind. Onstage for almost the entire production, Celia was forced to watch the courtship...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 677-681
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-09
Open Access
No
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