S<B>hakespeare Theater of N.J. winds up its season with company a.d. Bonnie J. Monte's staging of "As You Like It," framed upon a picturesque wintry canvas and peopled with blushing romantics. Most of all, the production accents the intrinsically sweet and loony edge of the characters with an infectious spirit of fun and fancy. Adopting the enchanted Forest of Arden as the setting for an idyllic romantic game, Monte and her admirable troupe mine the play's inherent humor and embrace its romanticism without being too broadly comic. </B>

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As You Like It

(F. M Kirby Shakespeare Theater, Madison, N.J.; 308 seats; $49 top)

A Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey presentation of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Set, Michael Schweikardt; costumes, Hugh Hanson; lighting Brenda Gray; sound, Monte; fight director, Rock Sordelet; musical director, Kris Kukul; production stage manager, Josiane M. Lemoeux. Opened, reviewed Dec. 3, 2005. Running time 2 HOURS, 55 MIN.

Orlando Kevin Isola

Oliver Clark Carmichael

Denis Ryan Mills

Charles, William Nathan Kaufman

Rosalind Victoria Mack

Celia Rebecca Bellingham

Touchstone Mark Mineart

Le Beau, Silvius Patrick Toon

Duke Senior Richard Bourg

Duke Frederick Edward James Hyland

Amiens MacAdam Smith

Corin David Douglas Smith

Jacques Scott Wentworth

Audrey Colleen Piquette

Sir Oliver Martext, Adam Larry Swansen

Phebe Tarah Flanagan

Jacques Topher Mikels

By ROBERT L. DANIELS

Shakespeare Theater of N.J. winds up its season with company a.d. Bonnie J. Monte’s staging of “As You Like It,” framed upon a picturesque wintry canvas and peopled with blushing romantics. Most of all, the production accents the intrinsically sweet and loony edge of the characters with an infectious spirit of fun and fancy. Adopting the enchanted Forest of Arden as the setting for an idyllic romantic game, Monte and her admirable troupe mine the play’s inherent humor and embrace its romanticism without being too broadly comic.

On several levels the production is far more palatable than either Peter Hall’s Theater Royal, Bath mounting at BAM earlier this year or Mark Lamos’ Shakespeare in the Park staging this summer. From dukes and courtiers to clergy and country shepherds, the comedy has been distinctively cast. There is a focused consistency and unity in delivery and an instinctive grasp of the Bard’s playful concept.

The pivotal conspirators at the center of the play are Rosalind (Victoria Mack), daughter of an exiled Duke, and her devoted friend, Celia (Rebecca Bellingham). Mack is a spirited and fetching Rosalind, ruled by an insouciant blend of wit and ardor. Irresistibly vivacious, even disguised as a young man, she plays her teasing woodland game in pursuit of the gullible Orlando (Kevin Isola) with appealing verve.

Bellingham is a delightfully plucky companion and Isola makes for a virile and bewildered lovesick Orlando. The wrestling match between Orlando and Charles (Nathan Kaufman) has never boasted such fury as staged by fight director Rick Sordelet.

Played by Scott Wentworth, the melancholy Jacques is both thoughtfully sarcastic and amusingly curt. There seems to be an accessible gentility behind the idle philosopher’s delivery of the famous “seven ages of man” speech.

Mark Mineart’s Touchstone is not the usual court jester so often drawn. His worldly fool has a well-seasoned wisdom and maturity seldom seen in the character. His flirtation with rustic wench Audrey (Colleen Piquette) makes for an appealing May-December courtship. Patrick Toon is deliciously gangly and goofy as a country bumpkin temporarily jilted by lovesick shepherdess Phebe, acted with ardent determination by Tara Flanagan.

Michael Schweikardt’s spare yet lovely set design is visually lustrous, from golden cherubic statues in a courtly garden to the Sylvan glade of a gauzy forest of lean trees. Hugh Hanson’s costumes complement the director’s overall concept — a delicious confection of a wintry night’s dream.

As You Like It

F. M Kirby Shakespeare Theater, Madison, N.J.; 308 seats; $49 top

Production

A Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey presentation of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Set, Michael Schweikardt; costumes, Hugh Hanson; lighting Brenda Gray; sound, Monte; fight director, Rock Sordelet; musical director, Kris Kukul; production stage manager, Josiane M. Lemoeux. Opened, reviewed Dec. 3, 2005. Running time 2 HOURS, 55 MIN.

Cast

Orlando - Kevin Isola Oliver - Clark Carmichael Denis - Ryan Mills Charles, William - Nathan Kaufman Rosalind - Victoria Mack Celia - Rebecca Bellingham Touchstone - Mark Mineart Le Beau, Silvius - Patrick Toon Duke Senior - Richard Bourg Duke Frederick - Edward James Hyland Amiens - MacAdam Smith Corin - David Douglas Smith Jacques - Scott Wentworth Audrey - Colleen Piquette Sir Oliver Martext, Adam - Larry Swansen Phebe - Tarah Flanagan Jacques - Topher Mikels

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