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This article by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 9, 1999.
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The Bard’s Princeton Tie
`I’m glad I am getting another crack
at playing Rosalind," says Princeton native Jennifer Van Dyck,
who heads the cast of "As You Like It," the season opener
at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Van Dyck can claim a growing
repertoire of the Bard’s heroines under her belt, including Portia
("The Merchant of Venice") at the Bread Loaf Theater, Cordelia
("King Lear") and Ophelia ("Hamlet") at the Old Globe
in San Diego. But she recalls the "joyous comedy" as her first
experience performing Shakespeare.
This was at Brown University where Van Dyck, Class of 1986, had a
double major in religion and theater. She says she is still in awe
of Rosalind’s "ability to think so incredibly on her feet, let
alone pulling off her disguise as a man." Of course, we agree
that gender switching is a theatrical device actors have been using
since and most likely before Shakespeare’s time.
I don’t know what possessed me to ask Van Dyck if she, like her character
Rosalind, ever disguised herself or pretended to be someone she is
not to make someone fall in love with her. But she does reveal how
she met her actor-husband, Jonathan Walker. They were both in disguise
playing an incestuous brother and sister, Laertes and Ophelia, in
Jack O’Brien’s production of "Hamlet" (with Campbell Scott
in the title role), at the Old Globe. It’s nice to know that this
"Ophelia" and "Laertes," after a nine-year courtship,
have just this week celebrated their first wedding anniversary. While
Van Dyck treads the boards in Madison, Walker is acting across the
river in a new play, "Angelique," at the Manhattan Class Company.
"As You Like It" marks Van Dyck’s debut with the New Jersey
Shakespeare Festival, but the actor is no stranger to the festival’s
artistic director Bonnie J. Monte. Their common background is at the
Williamstown Theater Festival, where Monte worked as an associate
to the artistic director, the late Nikos Psacharopoulos. It was during
her college years that Van Dyck began as an apprentice at Williamstown,
graduating through the non-Equity company to the Equity company.
While we are in agreement that Rosalind is, indeed, the most attractive
and most intelligent of the play’s characters, Van Dyck says she is
more intrigued with Rosalind’s guts and her ability to poke fun at
others as well as herself.
"I’d like to think I have that ability myself. As an actor you
have to learn to laugh at your ability — and sometimes your inability
— to do something. There’s a certain kind of bravery that comes
with putting on a costume or a mask," says Van Dyck, as she summons
up Rosalind’s opening line: "I show more mirth than I am mistress
Apparently one of the reasons that Van Dyck claims she admires Rosalind
is because of the way "she launches herself out of a lonely life
into a vivacious, adventuresome person." If ingenuity and cleverness
are a major part of Rosalind’s character, these are qualities that
are also expected of an actor, especially today. There certainly appear
to be parallels between Van Dyck and Rosalind.
As an actor who has been fortunate to keep working at her profession
since college graduation, Van Dyck gives herself credit for her "stick-to-it-iveness,"
a quality she says is indispensable to an actor. "With doors slamming
in your face every day, and people telling you you are the wrong size
and shape, you have to be stubborn and determined." Van Dyck,
who sees her career as a calling, says she advises people who ask
about the profession: "If there is anything else you want to do,
When I ask if Van Dyck had a tough time breaking into the business,
I get an unexpected response. She had, she recalls, "a sort of
On the advice of her voice teacher, Van Dyck met the powers-that-be
at Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island, a theater where she had
already worked as an usher. Within a year of her graduation from Brown
she was cast in Trinity Rep’s "The Crucible," directed by
Psacharopoulos. She then spent more than a year performing there,
with notable roles that included Abigail in "The Crucible,"
Lavinia in "Mourning Becomes Electra," Kate in "Other
People’s Money," Brook in "Noises Off," and Nancy in "The
After an audition landed Van Dyck her first New York appearance in
a new play at Playwrights Horizons, she found herself cast in a series
of new plays and worked steadily for a remarkable couple of years.
In typical fashion, Van Dyck has discovered that stage
acting must be supplemented by jobs doing voice-overs, the short-term
assignment on a television series ("Law and Order" among others),
and the TV soap spot ("All My Children"). She does not deny
that the last couple of years have been harder and slower because
of the theater’s odd factor for women — age.
"You get into your early 30s, and you’re not 20 anymore —
and you’re not 40. It gets a little tricky when you are in between,"
Van Dyck confides, as she realizes that age matters less in Shakespeare
and "in this world we are creating." But when Van Dyck suggests
that she may already have missed her shot at Juliet, I remind her
that Norma Shearer played her at 40.
Another director whom Van Dyck remembers fondly is the late Andre
Ernotte, who directed her in "Earth and Sky" for the Second
Stage. Years later when Van Dyck auditioned for Ernotte, who was preparing
"The Learned Ladies" for McCarter Theater, he used the opportunity
to give her a belated apology for making her wear an undershirt that
he thought made her feel bad in "Earth and Sky." Although
the incident took place over three years earlier and long ago was
dismissed as unimportant by Van Dyck, Ernotte gave her the impression
that he could not forget about it and could now say how sorry he was.
"He was a lovely, generous, and gentle man," recalls Van Dyck.
Van Dyck was part of the cast that moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway
in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of "The Secret
Rapture," directed by its author, David Hare. Another Broadway
role was in the short-lived, "Two Shakespearean Actors." Then
she got what she described as a "joyous experience," as a
part of the American cast that replaced the Irish in "Dancing
"We were encouraged not to see the running production so that
we could make it our own," says Van Dyck. "Unlike many replacement
casts, we started from scratch with director Patrick Mason. It was
an exhilarating nine months, and the most fun I had had since I was
The fun of childhood included theatrics. "I was always putting
on plays as a child with my best friend, a running sort of serial
drama called `Mother and Madeline.’" With her friend playing the
little girl who misbehaved and Van Dyck always playing the mother,
the saga, I am told, entertained both families through the third grade.
Even before such an epic undertaking, Van Dyck played producer in
the first grade for a production of "Oliver," giving herself
the title role, of course. No surprise that little Miss Van Dyck would
become active in an after-school Princeton program called Creative
Theater Unlimited. Reinforcing her dramatic endeavors at Princeton
High, she gained further experience as an apprentice at Princeton
University’s Theater Intime.
Confessing that she also loves regional theater, Van Dyck says she
used to take anything that came along. "Now I’m getting more particular
about the roles I will leave town for."
What about that out-of-town life upon the wicked stage? "I left
town with all the right spiritual values thanks to my father and mother,"
says Van Dyck. Her father, Nicholas Van Dyck, is a retired minister
who currently runs a Princeton-based non-profit called Religion in
American Life. Equally active is Van Dyck’s mother, Marcia Van Dyck,
who teaches special education at Riverside Elementary School. The
Van Dycks have three other successful daughters: a Greek scholar who
teaches at Columbia University, a marketing consultant in Portland,
and the head of advertising for Nike.
For "As You Like It" director Scott Wentworth, Van Dyck is
but one of a cast of love-struck characters — including Ryan Artzberger,
as Orlando; James Michael Reilly, as Jaques; Mark Elliot Wilson, as
the Duke; and Scott Whitehurst, as Touchstone — who argue for
and against a pastoral life.
With her reverential upbringing Van Dyck may one day feel the calling
to write a play about a pastor’s life. Until then it’s the Forest
of Arden and a bit of dirty politics. But remember that these are
only an excuse for a masquerading Rosalind to win the easily fooled
Orlando; the devoted Celia to beguile the wicked Oliver; the "roynish"
Touchstone to seduce the provocative Audrey; the disdainful Phoebe
to settle for the lovesick Silvius; and for them all to be united
in wedded bliss before it is time for us to go home and to wish Jennifer
and Jonathan a happy wedding anniversary.
— Simon Saltzman
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600. Opening
night for the festival season. Scott Wentworth directs. To June 27.
$24 to $38. Saturday, June 12, 7 p.m. Also featured this
Monte. July 10 to July 25.
explores justice, mercy, and the moral values of a society in conflict
over sexual mores and the abuse of power. Paul Mullins directs. August
7 to 22.
actor with strong Princeton ties, Christopher Reeve — stars in
the American premiere of a musical based on the early 20th-century
boulevard comedy by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar. September
11 to October 3.
by Bonnie Monte. October 30 to November 21.
adaptation of the beloved Dylan Thomas story. December 4 to 23.
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