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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the July 10, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Free Shakespeare Returns

When executive producer Anne Reiss and artistic director

Victoria Liberatori send out a press release that reads "The Princeton

Rep Shakespeare Festival is proud to announce the company’s return

to Pettoranello Garden’s Amphitheatre in Community Park North"

you better believe they mean what they say.

The long-time and doggedly persistent Princeton company, whose inaugural

Pettoranello season in summer, 2000, exceeded everyone’s expectations

for audience numbers (12,000 souls) and critical response (outstanding),

has fought long and hard for permission to return to the sylvan community

facility. Now, after a dark season precipitated by Princeton Borough

concerns about public safety and possible site degradation, the company

is out to recapture the momentum of its first summer-long season. "After almost 20 months of negotiations with the Princeton Recreation

Board, Princeton Rep will once again be in residence at Pettoranello’s

splendid garden amphitheatre where we will once again bring audiences

a unique cultural offering — professional productions of Shakespeare’s

plays free-of-charge," says Liberatori. "With a special vote

of thanks for architect and board member Lisa Fischetti who acted

as Princeton Rep’s representative in the long negotiation process,

thanks are also extended to the Joint Princeton Recreation Board and

the Recreation Department."

Back to open the festival on Thursday, July 11, is Shakespeare’s well-loved

romantic comedy, "As You Like It," which was presented for

two performances last August in Palmer Square’s Shakespeare in the

Square production. This year’s production of Shakespeare’s feel-good

tale of love and confusion, under the direction of James Alexander

Bond, is once again set in the Wild West. "`As You Like It’ is

extremely accessible Shakespeare and is a great choice for those who

might be intimidated by the Bard or even for introducing youngsters

to these timeless plays," says Bond.

Much of last year’s cast are reprising their roles including Missy

Thomas returning in the role of the resourceful and hopelessly smitten

Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior, and Nell Gwynn as

Celia, daughter to Duke Frederick and Rosalind’s royal sidekick. Gwynn,

who played Maria in Princeton Rep’s 1999 production of "Twelfth

Night," is pleased to be back playing opposite Missy Thomas.

Gwynn says director Bond has re-worked some of the play’s themes and

developed the relationship of these friends who are always together

in this uncomfortable place. "There’s a lot more at stake in this

forest of Arden," she says. "There are a lot more layers and

it’s a lot more human."

"It’s much more exciting to put the show together for an extended

run," she says from her home in New York. "Many of us are

back, and new people are coming in. This year we have time to really

find our roles."

"The Western theme is even more prevalent and little more realistic

this year. The show has traveled from a forest to a desert setting

of California’s Old West.

She says the Old West setting works because of the kind of situation

that Celia and Rosalind get themselves into. "When I think of

this theme, I think of the wealthy mining or ranching families that

did well in the West and took control. They became much like the dukedoms,

the American equivalent of Shakespeare’s royal families. And the Western

theme gives it a rough and tumble quality."

Music has been expanded and adds a through-line to the

piece, says Gwynn. In the role of Amiens, a musician to Duke Senior,

Jason Weiss has written a new bevy of folk and campfire melodies for

Shakespeare’s text. New staging touches will include more musical

numbers, Western dancers, and an element of audience participation.

Princeton Rep’s second production of the summer season, opening Thursday,

August 8, is "King Lear," the first tragedy the company has

presented. Director Liberatori says this tale of fathers and their

unloved sons and daughters, of catastrophic change, of the individual

at the mercy of a hostile world speaks powerfully to modern audiences

as the 21st century encounters the ultimate horror of anarchy and

annihilation. "The scenes of excruciating tenderness between Lear

and his daughter, Cordelia, contrasted with the play’s images of shocking

cruelty, convinced me to select it as Princeton Rep’s first Shakespearean


— Nicole Plett

As You Like It, Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival,

Pettoranello Gardens, Community Park North, Route 206 and Mountain

Avenue, 609-921-3682. Up to four free tickets at Thomas Sweet, 29

Palmer Square, or at theater on the evening of the performance. Reserved

seating and parking for Bard card holders. Performances continue every

Thursday through Sunday, to July 28, at 7 p.m.. Thursday, July

11, 7 p.m.

Pick-up your tickets at Thomas Sweet, 29 Palmer Square, Princeton,

Mondays to Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays from noon to

5 p.m.. Or pick-up tickets the evening of the performances starting

at 6 p.m. Tickets subject to availability. No phone reservations.

"Shakespeare Shuttles" will run between designated drop-off

locations and the amphitheater prior to and following the performances.

Bard Cards can be purchased for a contribution of $100 and up. Benefits

include priority reserved seating, discounts on festival merchandise

and participating restaurants, and reserved parking in the Fleet Bank

parking lot at 11 State Road.

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