MONMOUTH – Filled with action, romance and laughs, “As You Like It” is a fitting description for the opening play of The Theater at Monmouth’s 35th season.

Fighting brothers, feuding dukes, mistaken identity and an assortment of befuddled lovers set the scene for numerous plot twists and a happy ending.

Dustin Tucker, in his second season at Monmouth, mixes youthful bewilderment with courtly charm as Orlando, who adores Rosalind. His role requires some effective wrestling as well as comedic expertise.

Sally Wood, the theater’s artistic director, returns for a seventh season, and she delivers an adroit portrayal of Rosalind. Away from Orlando, her intense sorrow is an extreme contrast to her newfound love’s exuberance. But when disguised as a man, as she gives counsel on love’s ways to Orlando, her characterization sparkles with wit and energy.

Orlando and Rosalind are the play’s central figures, but many other delightful characters and situations revolve around their efforts to overcome matrimonial obstacles.

There’s Celia, played delightfully by Tanya Wineland in her first season at Monmouth. As Rosalind’s devoted friend, she provides reluctant and often comic support to Rosalind’s efforts.

Plus a lusty goatherd

Touchstone is a court jester, played appealingly by Tommy Schoffler, also a newcomer to this theater. He has some hilarious scenes with lusty Audrey, a goatherd (Kathryn Cleveland playing a small but memorable part in this first show of her first season at this theater).

Bill Van Horn, returning for a third season, plays both the sinister Duke Frederick and the banished Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father; Daniel Noel (first season) plays Corin, an older shepherd, with endearing simplicity; and Mark S. Cartier is Jaques, a pessimistic lord who is loyal to Duke Senior. It’s Jaques who delivers the play’s most quoted speech, which begins, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

While understanding the language and customs of 400 years ago may seem unattainable to audiences new to Shakespeare, Lucy Smith Conroy’s skillful direction puts perception of that life and its contrasts into the production. Smith Conroy has directed numerous shows in New York as well as for regional theaters and Portland Stage Company.

She keeps the action moving rapidly. Scene changes are seamless. Her attention to gesture, facial expression and vocal inflection extends to every character on stage, and that detail brings easy comprehension. The opening night audience included several young people, who appeared to be enthralled throughout the show.

Seeing the forest

Nichole Jesmine Smith is responsible for excellent costuming of the members of the court and the outcasts in the wintry forest of Arden. John Story’s scenic design is a single large tree at the center of large panels of dappled tones. With capable lighting by Ron Madonia, it’s an effective forest as well as backdrop for the court scenes.

The Theater at Monmouth’s 2004 season of shows, presented on rotating schedule, include an adaptation by producing director David Greenham and Bill Van Horn of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Liar” opening Friday, July 9, “Robert Sherwood’s “Idiot’s Delight,” Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Pippi Longstocking,” and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.”

Special events include Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” “The Complete History of America, Abridged” and “El Cid au Flamenco.”

Ticket information, show dates and times are available online at www.theateratmonmouth.org or by calling (207) 933-9999.

What: “As You Like It”

Where: The Theater at Monmouth

When: 7:30 p.m. July 7, 8, 14, 16 and 21, and Aug. 7 and 21; 7 p.m. Aug. 1; 2 p.m. Aug. 4, 14 and 18.

Tickets: Phone 933-9999.


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