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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

of."

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,

do it."

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

magical beginning."

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

Country Girl."

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

in Lughnasa."

"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

a child."

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

As You Like It, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival,

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

season:

Camino Real. The Tennessee Williams play directed by Bonnie

Monte. July 10 to July 25.

Measure for Measure. The Shakespeare tragi-comedy that

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.

Enter the Guardsman. Dana Reeve — wife of another

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.

Romeo and Juliet. The Shakespeare romantic tragedy directed

by Bonnie Monte. October 30 to November 21.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales. For the holidays, a stage

adaptation of the beloved Dylan Thomas story. December 4 to 23.


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