There can be too much of a good thing, as Rosalind in As You Like It brings up in the course of things, thereby introducing the phrase to the English language. In a related caution, familiarity breeds contempt, as an Aesop's fable had it.
Brown University Theatre and Sock & Buskin are staging the familiar pastoral comedy, with the underscored subtext that its academic audiences have had too much straight-ahead Shakespeare to deal with. So it was decided to shift focus from the play itself to the making of such jocular productions.
This work is one of his lighthearted charmers about mistaken identity and cross-dressing lovers masquerading as others, as in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Twelfth Night. Set in France, most of it takes place in the Forest of Arden. Exiled there by a usurping Duke (Jared Bellot) are Rosalind (Elizabeth Rothman), daughter of the rightful Duke, and the evil Duke's daughter Celia (Abby Colella), who will not leave her lifelong friend Rosalind. For protection from two-legged wolves in the woods, they disguise themselves, respectively, as a poor girl and a boy. Rosalind's potential lover was Orlando (Sophie Netanel), who himself has fled to the forest after being relegated to penury by his older brother Oliver (Ned Risely). Jester Touchstone (Nicola Ryan), servant Adam (Patrick Madden), and "melancholy Jacques" (Margaret Maurer) are the rest of the woodland creatures. By the end, just about everyone, including the bad brother, finds love.
Rothman is an animated sprite of a Ros-alind, adding more than her share of life to the play. Bellot's portrayal of the duchy-purloining Duke as gleefully self-absorbed works very well; after all, why should evil be lugubrious when villainy probably is fun? Madden's Adam stands out as a well-developed character. The incidental peasants Silvius (Gerrit Thurston) and Phebe (Mariagrazia LaFauci) feud well together, he in love with her but ignored, she smitten by Ganymede, who is actually the disguised Rosalind. (In a good laugh line, Rosalind quips to her: "Sell when you can: you are not for all markets.")
All that being so, this As You Like It, story and exchanges mostly intact, comes across like a subplot of a David Lynch movie. (No dwarf, but there is a giant panda). Or imagine a poetry recital taking place in one of the rings of a very disorganized circus. In other words, attention is constantly being called to the performers rather than the performance.
That's all quite intentional. The director is Nicholas Ridout, who teaches drama at the University of London, and it's worthwhile quoting his director's note in the program at length: "If all the world's a stage, is it ever going to be possible to find out what anyone else is feeling? Especially when what matters most is what they feel about you? And when you perhaps don't even know what you feel yourself — about these other people, or that other person in particular — would it help if you could watch yourself, as though you were in a play?" Sounds terminally hip.
Experimental theater is worthwhile, sometimes even when it fails — that's part of the contract, after all. But if theater is to expand us, it has to be about helping us enter hearts and minds and experiences out there. Making a performance about what the performers might feel about us, isn't that, well, rather masturbatory?