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’LIKE IT’ LIKE THAT

There’s lots to like in Bay Ridge company’s al fresco production of ’As You Like It’

for The Brooklyn Paper

Maybe it’s something in the air, because in the last year we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of companies producing "As You Like It."

In January, the Royal Bath Theatre presented the play, directed by Peter Hall, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And this summer, the play was presented twice in Central Park - in June by the New York Classical Theatre and in July by the Public Theatre.

Now, the Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project is having a go at this Shakespeare play with their outdoor production, directed by Carlo Rivieccio and staged on the grounds of Christ Church Bay Ridge.

Surely "As You Like It" is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. And not only because one of his best known soliloquies - "All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players ..." - comes from this play. Set mostly in the Forest of Arden, "As You Like It" is a pastoral comedy that mixes philosophy, cynicism, wit, intelligence and love in a most appealing way.

As is so often the case with Shakespeare, the story begins with estranged brothers - in this case two. Duke Frederick (Pat Colabella) has banished his brother (Francis Barra) to the forest so he can take over the title, and Orlando (Matt Pepitone) is forced to flee into that same forest to escape the wrath of his jealous older brother, Oliver (Johan Kohan). But before Orlando escapes, he wins a match with Frederick’s wrestler, Charles (the excellent Anthony Augello), and ends up winning the heart of Duke Frederick’s niece, Rosalind (Laura Stockton), the daughter of the duke’s exiled brother.

Unable to hide her disdain for her uncle, Rosalind is also forced to flee into the forest, which she does, disguised as the boy Ganymeade, accompanied by her good friend and cousin, Celia (Erin Etheridge), who pretends to be the maiden Aliena. The court jester, Touchstone (Alex Amarosa) goes along with the young ladies.

In the forest, Orlando (who is smitten with Rosalind) meets Ganymeade, who helps him woo his alter ego (Rosalind). Touchstone woos the dim-witted country girl Audrey (Kaitlin Creed). Oliver woos Celia/Aliena. And shepherd Silvius (the young and promising Alex Romanitan) woos the unwilling shepherdess Phebe (Katie Jergens) who is (quite hopelessly) in love with Ganymeade, whom she doesn’t realize is really a girl.

The Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project production benefits greatly from being staged outdoors in the garden of Christ Church. The church’s stone walls look decidedly Elizabethan, the various doors into the church make for great exits and entrances, and the lawn and foliage are the next best thing to an actual forest.

The other outstanding feature of this production is the female leads. Stockton is a saucy and wise Rosalind. Her transformation into a young boy is one of the best this reviewer has ever seen in this play. Etheridge is funny and likable - the perfect sidekick who also knows how to hold her own on stage. Jergens is extravagant and ridiculous in her misplaced love. And Creed is bawdy, buxom and an appropriate contrast to the restrained Rosalind.

Shakespeare is a serious undertaking for a community theater. The sheer volume of words is a formidable challenge. "As You Like It," with its four pairs of lovers is certainly one of the Bard’s more complicated comedies. (The story was based on Thomas Lodge’s romance, "Rosalynde.")

If this staging does not exactly turn Bay Ridge into Stratford on Avon, and the Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project is not yet Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre, this production is certainly a respectable rendition of Shakespeare’s comedy, worthy of our attention.

 

Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project’s "As You Like It" plays through Aug. 20 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 pm) at Christ Church Bay Ridge, 7301 Ridge Blvd. between 73rd and 74th streets. Admission is free. Seating is available for a suggested $5 donation. For more information, call (718) 390-7189 or visit www.BTAP.org.

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