MADISON, NJ – Yes, it’s that delightful setting once again. Although the amphitheatre on the College of St. Elizabeth certainly has its challenges, there’s something about Shakespeare under the stars that whisks you off to the verdant Arden forest.
We can well believe we are wandering with the disguised Rosalind as she plots to win Orlando, with the help of her friend Celia. Caralyn Kozlowski is mesmerizing as the love struck Rosalind, mercurial and clever as she taunts Matthew Simpson as Orlando. He is equally smitten, but it takes the entire play for him to finally be united with his true love. Maria Tholl as Celia and Jordan LaRoya as Oliver, Orlando’s privileged brother, are equally smitten.
This production, directed with great style by Bonnie J. Monte, is rife with imaginative touches. Not to mention those sheep! Paul Canada’s costumes are a joy, from the ladies’ delicate 17th century shoes to the foppish Le Beau, decked out in turquoise vest and frills. Dan Bound-Black carries out the effete part with class.
The entire cast, in fact, adds flourishes and fun to this enduring comedy. Robert Clohessy is Touchstone, the bragging fool who entices the young goatherd, Audrey, be his wife. She’s played with spunk by Kristen Kittel. Ralph Nash Thompson is impressive as Corin, the shepherd. Bruce Cromer is admirable as Duke Frederick, bringing all parties together in the end. Another seemingly mis-matched pair are Craig Bazan as Silvius and Jennifer Mogbock as Phebe. She rejects his overtures but is immediately smitten with the ‘male’ Rosalind.
As usual with Shakespeare, there are memorable lines. “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” with their exits and entrances and stages of life, is rendered beautifully by Greg Jackson as Jaques. Jackson is in his 15th season with NJST, performing a broad spectrum of roles. Kozlowski is in her 10th season, with a host of fine performances, including Amanda in “Private Lives,” Imogen Parrott “Trelawny of the Wells” and Desdemona “Othello.”
Jonathan Wentz’s ingenious set design is reminiscent of a grove of poplar trees, on a turntable that becomes a handsome interior. It’s all handled fluidly. The final scene with bowers of flowers, maidens in summery gowns and lanterns on the grass bring it all to a magical end.
This season has been especially difficult for the outdoor theatre, with frequent showers and thunderstorms. Actors pause strategically when planes are heard overhead. Orlando’s timing was perfect when declaring his love for Rosalind, with a long, amorous pause while a jet streamed past in the sky. Many people bring their own lawn chairs as well as picnic suppers.
It’s easy to see why audiences gravitate to this delightful venue. The Greek outdoor theatre has an authentic feel and Shakespeare comes alive in the strong, vivid interpretations by a stellar cast. Performances of “As You Like It” continue through July 28
. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600
or visit BoxOffice@ShakespeareNJ.org