Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Lushly Verdant and Sylvan As You Like It
Shakespeare sets most of the play in the Forest of Arden with those devoted cousins in exile, Rosalind and Celia (respectively disguised for their safety as a page and a country woman), and their jester Touchstone. Orlando is here searching for Rosalind with whom he had become smitten before she absconded from her father's court. Rosalind toys with Orlando, who fails to recognize her in her disguise.
Of course, that is just a small taste of the complex court and family intrigues which make up the plot of this Shakespearean romp. However, I suggest that you not bother to re-familiarize yourself with these matters in advance or, worse yet, try to stuff them into the heads of pre-adolescent children who are lucky enough to have you to bring them to this production. It is bloody complicated to spell them out. However, on stage, thanks to some alchemy performed by director Bonnie Monte and her large troupe, there is a breathtaking clarity to the story and a poetic lilt to the dialogue which weightlessly and delightedly carries aloft the youngest and oldest audience membersand everyone in between.
This production is not performed in a broadly farcical manner as family friendly outdoor productions tend to be. The rewards of such an approach can be appreciable. However, there is a special pleasure here in finding that most of the humor emanates from the witty words of the Bard. As demonstrated here, exquisitely wrought words are music to the ear. This As You like It could ignite a lifelong love of language in some children. Clocking in at about two hours and 20 minutes (with one intermission), this production is the real deal for both Shakespeare veteran and neophyte audiences.
Caralyn Kozlowski sets the style and pace with her no-fuss take-charge performance. Kozlowski combines strength and determination, ready humor, and warm sensuality in a smoothly integrated fashion to create a delightful, winning Rosalind. Matthew Simpson's Orlando is a fine match and foil. Simpson is boyishly suave (that may sound like an oxymoron, but I think it accurately describes today's fashion in young stage swains) and consistently likeable.
Pretty much the entire cast delivers the text in clear, understandable contemporary cadences, which is a strength of the best American productions of Shakespeare. Especially strong is Bruce Cromer who, in the roles of Duke Senior (Rosalind's father) and his brother Duke Frederick (Celia's usurping father), gives two strong, contrasting performances. Robert Clohessy (Touchstone) delightfully provides much of the evening's more earthy humor. Greg Jackson as cynical forest courier Jaques (a large role oddly detached from the play's central concerns) does particularly well by the famed "seven ages of man" monologue.
Paul Canada has designed attractive and playable traditional costumes. The set design, while less elaborate than recent STNJ outdoor productions, makes outstanding use of its outdoor amphitheatre stage. There is a rotating circular disk at center stage which is cloaked in green along half the outer edge for scenes in the forest. When turned 180 degrees, it is open on the front edge, and the disk and its props and rear wall are designed to represent the court of Duke Frederick and other locations. The balance of the wide stage has some greenery and other elements, but is largely open and allows us to look through to a large open area with trees and grass beyond. This provides a large countryside-like background which creates a lovely and enveloping environment for the play.
Open and spacious in all aspects, As You Like It provides an ideal summer's evening treat for the entire family.
As You Like It continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Sunday 8:15 pm / Matinee: Sun. 4:30 pm) through July 28, 2013, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Outdoor Stage, 2 Convent Road (at Convent Station), Morris Township, NJ (on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth). Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare; directed by Bonnie J. Monte