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STAGE BEAT

Geer Serves Up a Tasty 'As You Like It' in Topanga

July 05, 1991|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Romantic intrigue is still boiling away in the Forest of Arden and probably always will as long as directors and actors keep finding fresh ingredients to plop into Shakespeare's idyllic pot.

The chef in this staging of "As You Like It" at Topanga Canyon's Theatricum Botanicum is director Ellen Geer and, in addition to bright tempos and vigorous action spreading throughout the hillside trees surrounding the performing space, she has accomplished some delicious casting.

Theatricum stalwart Melora Marshall has, in Rosalind, one of those roles that she was made for. She is impish at court (crackling electricity between her and Susan Angelo's Celia), and almost makes one forget she's a woman when she disguises herself as Arden's Ganymede in the most famous "britches part" ever written.

Marshall is kept on her toes, though, by the sparkling performance of Omar Shawkat as Orlando. The boyish ingenuousness of his reactions and the over-brimming youthfulness of his ardor for Rosalind places his Orlando firmly in its inventive setting. He almost giggles as he vaults across the hillside slapping his lovesick poems on every tree in sight.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 10, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 9 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction
Name misspelled-- Actress Elinor Baggett's name was misspelled in a review of "Dear Emma" in Friday's Calendar.

Among many spicy performances, Jim LeFevbre provides a brash, low-comic Touchstone, Leonard Kelly-Young is a very funny, laconic shepherd Corin, and Milan Dragicevich easily manages Oliver's difficult switch from bad to good brother. It's an exuberant company that's lustily Elizabethan and a pleasure to watch.

"As You Like It," Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga . Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends Sept. 8. $8.50-$11 (children 6-12, $4); (213) 455-3723. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

'Emma' a Charming Patchwork Quilt

"Dear Emma," is the salutation that begins letters from a Virginia family to their daughter and sister. Sixteen-year-old Emma eloped in 1859 with a Northern soldier, never returned home--and was dearly missed. The letters bequeath a legacy of emotion and earthy humor--daily trivia that goes behind and beyond the cold facts of the history books.

Organized into a charming patchwork quilt by Rhonda Carlson, whose cousin found the letters, the piece was first seen by this reviewer in a 1989 production directed by Carlson and Kevan Quinn. Carlson is still the music director, and Quinn the choreographer, but in this incarnation at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood, Allan Hunt has taken over the direction and his emphatic, tightly knit guidance retains the heart tugs and the smiles.

Hunt has also put together a richer company. Quinn is still son John, looking again like an image from a Matthew Brady photograph. His last letter from the front before his death is the evening's most touching moment. Jack Ritschel and Elinor Daggett are striking as Emma's wise, benign parents, and understudy Scott Poland's sincerity creates a memorably gentle Pres Hylton, who marries Emma's sister, and whose granddaughter discovers the letters in 1926.

There are a lot of songs of the period woven through the action, admirably performed throughout, but with special comic abandon by Voiza Arnold, a bouncy yet subtle period flair by Tracy Lore, and with authority by Ritschel. Verity Compton is a charmer as the very young girl who finds the letters and imagines them into life.

"Dear Emma," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Ends July 21. $17.50-$20; (213) 852-1445. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Davis' 'Love' a Hint of Playwright's Promise

Dermot Davis is a young, award-winning Irish playwright from Dublin, and if "All About Love" at An Claidheamh Soluis in Hollywood is an indication, he has a bright future.

Davis' writing is original, highly stylish and, though a bit cynical, affectionate toward his characters. The first act of "Love" began as an award-winning one-act in Ireland and he has expanded the piece to the two acts seen here.

We first meet Jean and Robert on their honeymoon ("Isn't it lovely being happy?"), working out the towering joys and teensy annoyances of matrimony.

Then his Mum and Dad arrive.

On their honeymoon ? Well, the honeymoon is nearing the end of its second year and Dad thinks Robert might consider coming back to work in the family business. Act II finds Mum and Dad working out their teensy joys and towering annoyances at home. Then Jean and Robert turn up. The honeymoon is over and all four slip and slide into new frames of reference.

The bare-bones production's first problem is partially the author's direction, which is not nearly as stylishly high as his writing, almost as though he doesn't know where the gems are. Brian Mallon and Deborah Davis-Price know without hesitation what they're doing in the rarefied atmosphere of the play, but the rest of the problem is the casting of William B. Jackson and Cynthia Mason as the parents. Mason approaches the style, but Jackson seems to be in another genre altogether, and the author hasn't seemed able to give either a clue.

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