As You Like It Theatre Review - Orange County Shakespeare's Comedic Production a Charming Debut for its 2009 Season

Orlando (Ted Jonas, upper center) gets abused by Charles (Michael Fountain, below) as Adam (Jack Messenger) looks on

(Garden Grove, CA) July 9, 2009 – It’s summertime again. And during this temperamental season, low brow cinematic fair such as The Hangover, Land of the Lost, and The Transformers 2 saturate the senses of the viewer, resulting in a mind numbing “hangover” of its own. But entertainment during this fickle season doesn’t always have to be mindless, and the proof lies in Garden Grove, California, at the Festival Outdoor Amphitheatre. Shakespeare Orange County’s AS YOU LIKE IT is a joyous, exciting adventure into love and mistaken identity, courtesy of the solid direction by Carl Reggiardo and a phenomenal performance by Kara Revel as Rosalind.

Set in the duchy of France, AS YOU LIKE IT begins with a banishment of The Elder Duke, his daughter and niece, and an exile of a young lord. Duke Frederick usurps the kingdom from his older brother and banishes him to the Forest of Arden, where he is kept company by his loyal followers and his friend, Jaques, a melancholy lord whose self-imposed exile stems from his disgust with the ugliness of humanity and his own past. Frederick’s niece, Rosalind, is allowed to stay because of her friendship with her cousin, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom, falls in love with Rosalind, and she with him. But before both have a chance to proclaim their love, he is forced to flee from his home after discovering his own brother, Oliver, plans to murder him. Meanwhile, when Rosalind and Celia anger Duke Frederick, he banishes both of them. Rosalind, Celia, and their wise fool, Touchtone, escape to the Arden Forest. Disguised as a young man named Ganymede, Rosalind adapts to her new life, only to discover that her beloved Orlando is, too, hiding in the forest. And the sequence of events that follow result in miscommunication and heightened passion.

Rosalind (Kara Revel,left) plots with Touchtone (Greg Ungar) and Celia (Mitra Avani)

What really makes this production shine under the stars is the fine balance between the direction and acting. Director Carl Reggiardo (who also acts in the show as the distinguished banished Duke) knows how to maintain the pacing of Shakespeare comedies (as he wonderfully did in the 2007 production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW) without sacrificing the importance of character development. His creative guidance expertly focuses on the poignant moments between Rosalind and Orlando, while ramping up the speed with the comedic scenes of Touchtone, Celia, and other characters caught in the web of romantic confusion.

In terms of the acting, all of the performers glow, but Kara Revel’s Rosalind is a true standout from her opening line to the epilogue. Considered to be one of Shakespeare’s strongest heroines, Rosalind is a symbol of strength, independence, and vulnerability. And Revel gently exposes all those facets of this character gem. In the beginning of the show, Revel demonstrates Rosalind’s integrity when confronted by Duke Frederick (played with smarmy, Napoleon-like effect by Gil Gonzalez). She also shows compassion and loyalty to her cousin, Celia (a hysterical performance by Mitra Avani). But her scenes involving Orlando (a ruggedly, charismatic Ted Jonas) are completely magical. When she pines for him---either in a soliloquy, with Celia, or with Orlando himself under the guise of her male alter-ego--- Revel’s emotional, romantic range from giggling infatuation to burning passion to dutiful love is dynamic because it is shown through her expressive eyes and physicality. And this talent is especially evident when Rosalind is in disguise. She displays haughty callowness to comic proportions, so much so that when she inadvertently attracts a lustful shepherdess (an incredibly insatiable Stephanie Robinson), the absurdity becomes full bloom. Revel’s chemistry with her fellow actors and her powerful emotional spectrum is an excellent debut for her at Shakespeare Orange County, and hopefully, it won’t be her last appearance there.

Jaques (John Frederick Jones, center)shares his words of wisdom to the young lords, as The Duke (Carl Reggiardo, upper right) looks on

Other moving performances include John Frederick Jones as Jaques and Greg Ungar as Touchtone.  A veteran of the Shakespeare Orange County stage, Jones’s Jaques is an amalgam of class and cynicism. A somber misanthrope in self-imposed exile, Jaques thrives on sadness like a narcotic. However, Jones infuses sophisticated pathos and empathy into this malcontent. His eloquence is unmatched and when he recites Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy, especially when he describes the “Seven Acts of Man” (concluding with the “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”), the silence is almost deafening afterwards. A truly heartbreaking, bravura performance.

To balance out the melancholy nature of Jaques, Greg Ungar transcends the boundary in playing a jester who is gifted with profound wisdom. His limber, physical sense of comedic timing is equally matched by his insightfulness, especially when he proclaims the memorable “The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.” Ungar’s portrayal is masterful, so much so that in one scene he charms the audience to verbally participate in some of his antics.

Touchtone (Greg Ungar) is conquered by Audry (Megan Sheetz)

Shakespeare Orange County has conjured some incredible theatre magic for the past eighteen years. As the recession continues to hammer our country this summer, there is always a desire to laugh, to temporarily forget the hardships of reality. And this production of AS YOU LIKE IT is a fantastic remedy to chase the summer blues away.

As You Like It opened July 9 (Thursday night) and runs to July 25 (Saturday night)

Tickets: $32---714-590-1575

Shakespeare Orange County
The Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA
Photos by: Jim Tortolano

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