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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the July 17, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `As You Like It’

All the pictures fairest lined,

Are but black to Rosalind.

Let no fair be kept in mind,

but the fair of Rosalind.

By most people’s standards, Katherine Hepburn’s

triumphant

Rosalind, in "As You Like It" on Broadway in the early 1950s,

is the quintessential portrayal of Shakespeare’s most charming

heroine.

But for sheer easy-going joy, it is difficult to imagine Kate, or

anyone else, outdoing the job Missy Thomas is currently doing under

the stars at Pettoranello Amphitheater in Princeton.

Princeton Rep will be performing "As You Like It," Thursdays

to Sundays, through July 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are free, but there

is a suggested $10 donation.

Set in the what appears to be Hollywood’s idea of the Old West, circa

1890s, Rosalind is brassy, yet sensitive; coy, yet boldly assertive

— just the way Shakespeare wrote her. She is a perfect example

of everything a modern woman is supposed to be. Not bad for a play

written over 400 years ago.

Unseated by his younger brother, Duke Frederick (Gene Kelly), Duke

Senior (Bob Armstrong) retreats into exile in the Forest of Arden.

Rosalind remains as a companion to Frederick’s daughter, Celia. An

embittered rancher, Oliver (Michael Warner), arranges a wrestling

match to the death for his brother Orlando (Christian Conn). But to

his surprise, Orlando wins the match, and Rosalind, impressed with

the younger brother’s physical prowess and rippling muscles, becomes

enamored.

But when Duke Frederick learns that Orlando is the son of a friend

of the banished Duke, instead of rewarding him, he snubs him. Rosalind

then gives Orlando the golden heart on a chain from around her neck.

The Duke promptly banishes Rosalind, whom he has only tolerated as

a companion to his daughter Celia (Nell Gwynn). Together the women

head off to the forest to find Duke Senior, with Rosalind, for their

safety, dressed as a man. For companionship, they bring along

Touchstone

(Eric Alperin), her uncle’s clown.

Rosalind discovers Orlando in the forest, equally

smitten

with her and occupied with attaching poorly written love poems to

trees. Posing as a young man named Ganymede, Rosalind tests Orlando

by

inviting him to practice making his declarations of love. A young

shepherd named Silvius (Drew Seltzer), desperately tries to win the

love of Phebe, (Judi Lewis), a high-strung shepherdess. But Phebe

falls in love with Rosalind, believing she is a man. Oliver falls

in love with Celia, and even Touchstone falls for the lusty Audrey

(Kim Foster). As a kind of antidote to this lovefest, Jacques (Richard

Bourg), a solitary lord, emits a steady stream of acerbic commentary

on life and amorousness, only to be mocked by Rosalind. Of course,

all works out in the end, in the finest tradition of light romantic

comedy — predictable yet satisfying.

Princeton Rep’s production is grandly conceived and precisely

realized.

The Old West setting and costumes work as a palatable sugar coating

for the audience to digest — period costumes can be a bit

off-putting

to those not brought up on TV’s "Masterpiece Theater."

Shakespeare’s text is untouched. The actors, apart from a few "yee

haws" and a couple of cowboy songs strummed on a badly out-of-tune

guitar, pretty much ignore the cowboy insertions anyway. This, of

course, maintains the integrity of the play while injecting a bit

of lighthearted fun.

James Alexander Bond’s direction is a mix of reverence for the text

as a masterpiece, and good old-fashioned fun. He pays special

attention

to enliven some the saucier aspects of the play, whether it be a

well-placed

hand across the breasts, a couple pledging their love while rolling

in the hay, or a young man’s overenthusiastic encounter with a cactus.

This may sound like blasphemy, but with all the love and sexual

innuendo

splashed about the stage, and the quick entrances and exits, it is

tempting to characterize "As You Like it" as a

really-really-good

episode of the old John Ritter sitcom, "Three’s Company."

Thomas, who also played Rosalind last summer in Princeton Rep’s

production

of "As You Like It" in Palmer Square, asserts herself

thoroughly

as an actor, bagging all the old actor’s tricks and instead bringing

her character to life with sheer talent and dogged technique. She

injects each phrase with subtle meaning and each wink, nod, and wiggle

of the hips belongs to her character. But she also never loses sight

of the comedy of the play, knowing when to ham things up, just a bit,

in order to make things funnier.

Richard Bourg, as Jacques, also turns in an excellent performance,

delivering famous lines, like "All the world’s a stage, and all

the men and women merely players" with an affecting, off-the-cuff

melancholy. Nell Gwynn is properly buoyant and graceful as Rosalind’s

cousin Celia, always present but never stealing the spotlight.

Likewise,

Christian Conn as Orlando plays his character with a well-preserved

hunkness that allows the audience to see what Rosalind sees in him,

without distracting with too much testosterone. Eric Alperin is truly

funny as the frantic clown, Touchstone, who wins the girl despite

his high octane personality. Kim Foster, as Audrey, is appropriately

carnal. Judi Lewis is also a comic jewel as Phebe.

It is nice to see that Princeton Rep won its 20-month battle to return

to Pettoranello Gardens. The production is terrific. There is

something

beautiful about experiencing Shakespeare under the stars with the

geese honking in the distance and planes flashing overhead. It will

be fun to think back on these fun summer evenings in the cold dark

days of next December.

— Jack Florek

As You Like It, Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival,

Pettoranello Garden, Community Park North, Route 206 and Mountain

Avenue, 609-921-3682. Free tickets at Thomas Sweet, Palmer Square,

and at theater on night of show. Every Thursday through Sunday

at 7 p.m., to July 28.


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