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THEATER REVIEW

Traveling Troupe Does Shakespeare As You Like It

May 13, 1996|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Anyone who didn't make it to the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Friday missed the chance to catch a ravishing company of actors who specialize in the classics.

The troupe, named A Noise Within and based in Glendale, staged a production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" that was lighter, silkier and more personable than even South Coast Repertory's entertaining production of "The Taming of the Shrew," which earned such well-deserved praise earlier this season.

The comparison is, of course, egregious. Given the excellence of both, a preference for one over the other is strictly a matter of taste. Moreover, the broad slapstick style of SCR's "Shrew" and the heartfelt lyricism of ANW's "As You Like It" are like apples and oranges. But forced to pick, I would choose the latter.

In "As You Like It," we get Shakespeare the pure poet and philosopher. It is an elegant, sometimes melancholy, often comic meditation on young love. Here the battle of the sexes is treated as a giddy contest, not a knockdown war of wills.

Despite ample passages of prose, this comedy of character--rather than plot--offers some of the most appealing lines in the Shakespearean canon.

For instance, Jacques' description of the "seven ages" of man begins:

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many

parts . . .

This is a thrilling comedy that soars. It depicts universal brotherhood versus the particular inequity of brothers, the joys of sisterhood and loyalty, the grandeur of nature no matter how harsh, the beauty of the pastoral life versus the malice, envy and artificiality of city life at the royal court.

Enough cannot be said about the performers. They were magnificent--ideally cast, wonderfully expressive, their stylish acting full of precise clarity and gorgeous nuances--all expertly directed by Sabin Epstein.

Special mention must be made of the radiant, engaging brilliance of Ann Marie Lee's Rosalind, the freshness of Robert Pescovitz's sage yet cynically world-weary Jacques, the comic charge of William Mesnik's witty Touchstone, who is the essential barometer of any "As You Like It," and John Boyle's magical doubling of the good Duke Senior and the malefic Duke Frederick. Each was simply the best I've ever seen in those roles.

Other principals also must be singled out: Michael Manuel for his vigorous, charmingly rustic Orlando; Jill Hill for her entertaining Celia; Donald Sage Mackay for his fey Le Beau; Deborah Strang for her farcical Phebe and Richard Soto for an adroit Oliver, a perfect evil foil for Orlando.

The physical production, built to travel, is spare and uncluttered. The scenic designs for Oliver's orchard, Duke Frederick's court and the Forest of Arden consist of nothing more than theatrically deployed gossamer dropcloths of various colors--deep red, pale green and shades of purple. In combination with the decorative, Edwardian-style costumes, they create the impression of a lush, sensuous and well-appointed staging.

The show, attended by roughly 550 people, was the last of the Irvine Barclay's management-sponsored theater series for 1995-96, which also included Eric Bogosian's popular "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee" in January.

* "As You Like It," Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. May 10, one performance only. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ann Marie Lee: Rosalind

Jill Hill: Celia

John Boyle: Duke Senior/Duke Frederick

Donald Sage Mackay: Le Beau/William

William Mesnik: Touchstone

Richard Soto: Oliver

Michael Manuel: Orlando

Robert Pescovitz: Jacques

James Karr: Corin/Hymen

Brendan Averett: Charles/Silvius

Phebe: Deborah Strang

Hisa Takakuwa: Audrey

A Noise Within production of a play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Sabin Epstein. Set design: Angela Balogh Calin. Costume design: Alex Jaeger. Lighting design: Paula Dinkel. Property master: Lisa Berntsen. Music: Laura Karpman. Sound design: Charlie Brissette. Fight choreography: Kenneth R. Merckx Jr. Stage Manager: GiGi Garcia.

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