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'As You Like It' always a hit with audiences

Once again, OSF has done a production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," that perpetual crowd pleaser. This version, directed by J.R. Sullivan, is bright, snappy and delightfully silly. You just have to love it.

"As You Like It," of course, is about love in all its aspects. It is also about the contrast between the scheming and double-dealing of the court and the transformational "innocence" of the pastoral life. Any dark corners here are quickly dispelled.

As the play opens, the evil Duke Frederick (Brad Whitmore) has banished his brother, the good Duke Senior (Jonathan Haugen), who takes refuge in the Forest of Arden. A nobleman, Oliver (Jeff Cummings), hates his younger brother, Orlando (Danforth Comins) and banishes him. Orlando and an old family retainer, Adam (Mark Murphey), also flee to Arden, but not before defeating the Duke's prize wrestler and incurring his wrath as well.

While Duke Frederick's court is mean-spirited and filled with cruelty, greed, envy and spite, Duke Senior's realm in the forest is a mirror image society of generosity, friendship, and forgiveness, "under the greenwood tree" where the only enemy "is winter and rough weather."

Duke Frederick's next spontaneous banishment falls upon Senior's daughter Rosalind (Miriam A. Laube), who also heads to Arden. Frederick's daughter Celia (Julie Oda), prefers her pure friendship with Rosalind and the unknown forest to what she has seen at court. In order to survive in the primitive world, Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and Celia travels as her sister. They take with them Celia's fool Touchstone (David Kelly).

But Rosalind has met Orlando after his bout with the wrestler and it is love at first sight for both of them. Through them and the other inhabitants of the forest-male and female shepherds, a ditzy female goatherd and an "evolving" Touchstone, "As You Like It" settles in to examines the many faces of love--romantic love, obsessive love, idealized love and purely sexual love-- as well as loyalty and friendship.

This time around Rosalind is played as giddy, spontaneous and terribly young. No wisdom or philosophy here. She is pure joy.

There is a wonderful chemistry in this cast. Danforth Comins is a good match to Laube's Rosalind as the passionate, pining Orlando. Julie Oda's Celia is the picture of reason-until she falls for the transformed and reformed Oliver. Robert Sicular is marvelous as the cynical and eternally sour philosopher, Jaques.

Another sneaky scene-stealer is Sarah Rutan as Phebe, the shepherdess who falls in love with Rosalind in her disguise as a boy. She is well matched by Juan Rivera LeBron as the hapless shepherd Silvius. Teri Watts is the charmingly na&

239;ve goatherd, Audrey, in love with Touchstone, and Jeffrey King is the wise shepherd Corin.

If you are going to speak of scene stealing, however, you have got to hand the prize to David Kelly as Touchstone. Director Sullivan has let him run with every bit of physical comedy you can imagine. As he portrays the court philosopher who becomes the lecherous suitor, Kelly nearly walks off with this play.

Sullivan set this production in 1930's America. The artificial and selfish (read "urban") court is contrasted with an Arden that is a sort of idealized hobo camp. It's pure American mythology-"all for one and one for all."

To drive home the point, Sullivan and composer John Tanner deliberately put Shakespeare's "songs" into a decidedly 30's sound. There is a bit of Woody Guthrie, a smidgen of Leadbelly, some 30's upbeat pop music. William Bloodgood's spare set of huge leafy flats and the lighting by Robert Peterson shift subtly as the scenes-and seasons &

change. Joyce Kim Lee's lush costumes contrast the sleek court with the "open road" look of Arden.

But ultimately, "As You Like It" is about love, glorious love. And, as always, it's a winner. "As You Like It" is in the Bowmer Theatre and plays until October 28, the end of the 2007 season.