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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the August 22, 2001

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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,

and reconciliation.

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

and interpretations.

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


she says.

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

contributing elements.

"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

modern context."

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 "," 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

As You Like It, Princeton Rep, Shakespeare in the

Square ,

Palmer Square, 609-921-3682. No tickets required. Free, rain or shine.

Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26, at 2 p.m.

For the complete calendar of events in central New Jersey, go


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