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A CurtainUp Review
As You Like It
Director Bonnie J. Monte is making a return visit to this "joyous" comedy that previously captured her imagination when she set it in a winter wonderland on the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's main stage for the Christmas holiday time in 2005. It's summertime again and the living is easier, even if designer Paul Canada's elaborate 18th century costumes seem a little fussy for frolicking out-of-doors. The attractive rotating out-of-doors/indoors setting designed by Jonathan Wentz looks on one turn like an arboretum and then with a little spin of the wheel, the royal digs or elsewhere.
Unlike the previous As You Like It, this more free-wheeling staging makes no pretense or creates any illusion about mirroring the political tensions that existed in 1600 England. The dirty doings that trigger the plot quickly get tossed aside as we focus our attention on the very beautiful Caralyn Kozlowski, who, in the role of the masquerading-as-a-boy Rosalind, sets out to win the love of a rather easily duped Orlando (a splendidly virile, acrobatic Matthew Simpson).
The other principal characters also support the mood of frivolity that prevails in this play that is all that and possibly no more than that. What fun it is to see how Rosalind's devoted "cous" Celia (a sparkling Maria Tholl) manages to ultimately beguile the wicked Oliver (Jordan Laroya), and follow the machinations of Touchstone (Robert Clohessy), the wisest of fools as he figures out how to seduce the giddy Audrey (Kristen Kittel).
To a lesser degree, we are amused by the enamored shepherd Silvius (Craig Bazan) as he struggles without much luck to win the favors of the reluctant Phebe (Jennifer Mogbock). So much for the plot. Performances by all are first-rate, although I remain unsure of how I feel about the long-winded Touchstone sounding Bard-like by way of Bayonne.
It is otherwise easy to be delighted by this company's light-hearted and agile-footed performances, including those given by a baa-ing quintet of lambs (as performed by live actors in the proverbial sheep's clothing) that not only graze on the grass but also impressively climb down the stone steps of the amphitheater. Also noteworthy is the wrestling match between Orlando and Charles (Benjamin Sterling) that may well be the most exciting and acrobatically invigorated (as staged by the master of fight choreographers Rick Sordelet) I've ever seen.
As You Like It is not known as one of the Bard's easiest comedies to perform, or as accessible to a family audience as are the more rambunctious The Comedy of Errors or Two Gentlemen of Verona. But its transformation-of-character theme is, nevertheless, something all ages (above ten years old) might reasonably enjoy and appreciate.
The mood of melancholy is certainly played down by the famously cynical Jaques, as played with a charmingly debonair air by Greg Jackson. . . tossing off his famous "seven ages of man" speech with more élan than is usually ascribed to it. Except for the tendency to drag as it nears it long-awaited conclusion, the play is unexpectedly recharged by the effervescent Ms Kozlowski, who makes Rosalind's final speech to the audience the unexpected highlight of this production.