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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the August 22, 2001
edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
As You, the Audience, and Actors, Like It
Talk to anyone about the Princeton Rep Shakespeare
Festival’s upcoming production of "As You Like It" and the
word "chemistry" crops up so often it’s enough to make you
start thinking "Bride of Frankenstein." The seventh annual
summer festival is back with free Palmer Square performances of
in the Square. "As You Like It," an escape into the Forest
of Arden that’s billed as Shakespeare’s happiest comedy, will be
rain or shine, on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26, at 2 p.m.
The "chemistry" in question concerns one of the hits of last
year’s festival that enjoyed an extended run at Community Park North.
Actors Missy Thomas and Donald Kimmel, who played Kate and Petruchio
in the critically acclaimed production of "The Taming of the
are back. This year they play two very different romantic leads,
and Orlando, in the Bard’s popular comedy of love, loss, perplexity,
U.S. 1 critic Jack Florek was among the estimated 12,000 souls who
attended one or more free performances outdoors at the Amphitheater
at Princeton’s Community Park North. And he was one of many critics
won over by director Victoria Liberatori’s production "Taming
of the Shrew."
"Missy Thomas’s strong performance as Katherine is the key to
success and redemptive message of the production," he wrote.
plays her Kate with a subtle dignity and emotional depth — along
with a fine sense of comedy. Donald Kimmel also has delicate duty
and plays his part exceptionally well. Together they create an onstage
chemistry that sizzles with sexual energy and reminds us, once again,
why people still bother to fall in love."
Written in 1599, "As You Like It" is an engaging
comedy about four pairs of lovers, a couple of bachelors, and the
motley fool, Touchstone. William Martin directs the production which
will be set in the American Wild West of the 1890s, with period
designed by Marie Miller.
Martin began his professional directing career in the 1970s with the
Tony-nominated musical, "The Lieutenant." He can take credit
for having directed, stage managed, or acted in the entire Shakespeare
canon — with the exception of just two plays.
During a lunch-break last week, Missy Thomas confirmed that she had
never worked with Donald Kimmel before last year. "We met at the
audition — and the chemistry was instant," she says. "Even
though some performances had to be canceled because of weather, we
had so much fun."
Thomas played Rosalind in "As You Like It" earlier this year
in Memphis, at Playhouse on the Square, and two years ago with King’s
County Shakespeare in Brooklyn. Although King’s County was her first
outing in the role, she says her performance received so much press
that it led to more opportunities to audition for strong Shakespearean
Thomas’s New York credits reflect her range of roles from "The
Country Wife," "Miss Julie," and "School for
to "As You Like It," "Watching and Waiting," and
Man’s World." While she doesn’t consider herself a Shakespeare
specialist, she has developed lots of enthusiasm for his plays.
can be challenging to get Shakespeare’s language and the point across,
but Shakespeare is also so universal — and funny," she says.
Audiences thrive on the works even as contemporary actors strive to
make them accessible to new audiences. And, she adds, as an actor
"you know you’re safe, because the writing’s so good."
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Thomas graduated from UT, Austin,
in 1993. Her father was a fireman and her mother an English teacher
and writer. Although she didn’t catch the theater bug from her family,
she says her mother has been a good resource for talking over scripts
Working for the first time with director William Martin, Thomas says
she was immediately impressed by his good ideas and general
"It’s great for an actor," she says, "because there’s
a fantastic energy that’s bouncing around."
Martin’s interest is in shining a light on the role of women in the
culture of the time. "By going to the Wild West, he gives the
sense of the characters shedding all the rules of civilized
The plot revolves around the conflict between Duke Senior and Duke
Frederick and their families: a series of usurpations, political and
romantic, all of which lead this group of characters into the Forest
of Arden. After Rosalind meets and falls in love with Orlando, the
disenfranchised youngest son of Sir Rowland De Bois, he flees to the
forest. And eventually she seeks refuge there, too. When she does,
she and her friend Celia do so in disguise. Rosalind disguises herself
as the young man Ganymede and Celia as her younger sister Aliena.
"It wasn’t safe for two women to travel alone," explains
"not in England and not in the Wild West." Thomas notes that
the first thing Rosalind does when she gets to Arden is to buy a house
— something that a woman could not legally accomplish in
England or 19th-century America.
Asked to explain the general enthusiasm for Shakespeare that seems
to be reigning from coast to coast, Thomas says there are several
"I think people are more educated now than they have been
and more schooled in Shakespeare," she says. "I also think
that movies like `Shakespeare in Love’ and `Much Ado About Nothing’
have been very helpful. The movies do such a good job of making people
interested in that time period. And Shakespeare’s writing is so
and the themes are themes people can really identify with."
"They’re amazing love stories, with fantastic violence, and many
of them are so funny. I took my mom to see `Much Ado About
Nothing’ last week in New York — it was a production set in the
1960s, and we had a great time." Thomas says her mother, like
others, was surprised at how successfully Shakespeare’s drama can
be "pulled forward" from its Elizabethan origins to modern
"So many people are used to thinking of Shakespeare as doublets
and hose or poofy wigs — but none of the Shakespeare I’ve done
is about that," she says. "These productions break down
that Shakespeare is stodgy and hard to understand."
Thomas’s romantic match on stage, Donald Kimmel who plays Petruchio,
knows Shakespeare from many different vantage points and over many
years. "You’re essentially speaking a different language so that
modern audiences can understand," he says when he joins the
"The simple truth of it is that it’s just great theater,"
he says. "The plays are so well crafted and so well written, if
you have actors that can get to the truth of what’s going on with
the characters, the language becomes very easy to understand. The
plays are easier than some modern plays because of the beauty of the
poetry and the prose. The Elizabethan language rings so true in a
Kimmel’s first role, at age eight, was as Puck in "A Midsummer
Night’s Dream." The venue was a training center for young actors,
Walden Theater, in Louisville, Kentucky, where founding director Nancy
Niles Sexton impressed on her students the maxim that "If you
can do Shakespeare, you can do anything."
Modern direction, Kimmel believes, has made Shakespeare more
William Martin, he says, is "tending to get rid of classical
that are obscure to modern audiences." He gives as an example
Rosalind’s reference to "Caesar’s thrasonical brag."
"That’s a pretty obscure reference — not crucial to driving
forward the action of the scene," he says. "Also, because
the plays run over two hours, every director has to cut some running
time, so we’ve cut a lot of the play’s references to the French
Kimmel has performed Off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway, in regional
and in film. His Off-Broadway roles include "Things You Shouldn’t
Say Past Midnight." The youngest of four boys, Kimmel’s father
was an investment broker and his mother a housewife, until she went
to work at Walden Theater as the public relations director. All four
brothers dabbled in theater, and two went professional. His elder
brother George Kimmel is also a working actor in New York.
For Kimmel, his vocation grew serious when, at 17, and still in high
school, he landed a role in the movie "Taps." As one of the
cadets, the role kept him on location in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,
for three months. With a tutor, he also earned enough credits to
early from high school. Yet rather than stay professional, Kimmel
headed for Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "I didn’t
get an agent, I dove into a liberal arts education and the phone
ringing." Since then he has been in and out of love with theater,
married, and become a father.
Two recent independent film projects, "Rubout," directed by
Marylou Bongiarno, and "Death.com," directed by Russell
are among his recent credits. Both films will be on the film festival
circuit this coming year, and Kimmel has high hopes for the future
of their directors.
Meanwhile, Kimmel shares the general enthusiasm (which he attributes
to that "chemistry") for his upcoming performances with Missy
"When we first auditioned together, it was an immediate
says Kimmel. "They paired us up and we did the wooing scene from
`Taming of the Shrew.’ There was an immediate chemistry. This season
is a wonderful reprise: Petruchio is so dominant in `Taming of the
Shrew’ — he drives the action. But in `As You Like It,’ Rosalind
is in the driver’s seat. So it’s a wonderful role reversal."
— Nicole Plett
Palmer Square, 609-921-3682. No tickets required. Free, rain or shine.
Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26, at 2 p.m.
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