Too good to be true

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Lynnea Benson
Frog & Peach Theatre Company
Theatre at Park-West Church
165 W. 86th St. (946-5321)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 19)
Review by John Martin

One of the mysteries and glories of Shakespeare is that the whole is not only great but almost always greater than the sum of its parts. No matter how tangled his plot or intricate his syntax, by the time he sums up at evening's end, his characters have so touched the heart and their quirks and quandaries have so beguiled the time that actors and audience, basking as one in the afterglow, can have no doubt that morning's at seven, God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world. At least that's true in a good Shakespearean production-and the Frog & Peach's As You Like It was a good one indeed.

One of the best things about it-for which both director Lynnea Benson and the evident team spirit of the ensemble deserve high credit-was how much it rose above its limitations: (a) a largely bare stage that didn't remotely suggest the Forest of Arden, and (b) a modest overall talent level. Virtually every performer in the cast had a moment in the sun, and most made that moment shine--as Mervyn Haines, Jr., for example, with the "sermons in stone" monologue of Duke Senior, or Douglas Stone, when, as the love-smitten clown Touchstone, he became hilariously defiant in attempting to scare off a far larger and more appealing rival.

Undoubtedly the most fascinating character in the play is the melancholy Jaques, and this one was Jacques as you like him-Phillipe Brenninkmeyer, a British-born Dutch actor with major-league talent, a flair for comedy, and a charm more than a little reminiscent of the young Richard Burton. A bit mannered at times, a bit too quick to throw away lines that should be savored (although his "Seven Ages of Man" was excellent), he suggested a pass receiver with Olympic speed and unlimited potential who needs to concentrate more on simply catching the ball. But at his best he was exceptional, and his song-and-dance "Hey nonny" numbers (in which he was ably abetted by singer/guitarist Elliott George Robinson as Amiens and Ted Zurkowski's inventive music) were the high point of the evening.

Another indispensable contributor to that feeling of two hours well spent was Kathy Keil as Rosalind; her energy level remained exuberantly high throughout. She had red hair into the bargain; it seemed so right for this hearty daughter of the outdoors that it should almost be a role requirement. She also has the good fortune to be paired for much of the evening with the lovely Rachel Russell (Celia), and the two of them added a zest devoutly to be applauded. So, for that matter, did Jeff Norton as Duke Frederick, with his stentorian bellowing and Napoleonic strut.

Others in the cast were Ted Zurkowski, Tom Fenaughty, Matthew David Barton, Hal Smith-Reynolds, Derry A. Watkins, Theo Caldwell, Melissa Wolff, and Josephine M. Gallarello.

Lynnea Benson's directing created pace, movement, vitality, and, now and again, moments of high delight. The line readings needed a bit more work, but with Shakespeare they always do. Michael Pozdnyakov's costumes were modern but effective. Kim Owens's scenic design needed a larger budget. Tom Knutzon's dance arrangements were absolutely delightful. Incredibly, this was Shakespeare and it was free. It shouldn't have been. It was too good for that.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 0
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 0

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Copyright 1997 John Martin