"As You Like It" may be skimpy by Shakespeare standards, but it does offer one of his most attractive heroines--the vivacious, love-drunk, cross-dressing Rosalind.
She's at the dewy center of this pastoral comedy, and any theater troupe that stages it had better come up with a good actress to play her. The Long Beach Playhouse presents an appealing one in Dorothy A. Gallagher, who realizes that Rosalind is a combo of rollicking hormones and juicy confidence.
Gallagher is supported nicely by Brenan Baird as Rosalind's ever-ready flame, Orlando. Baird, a lanky actor who more than a year ago helped raise above the ordinary the playhouse's production of "Much Ado About Nothing," gives Orlando the right degree of masculine bravado tinged by just enough goofiness to make him likable. He falls quickly for Rosalind, and it's clear why she falls for him.
These two carry us over the rough spots in director Darlene Hunter-Chaffee's staging. When things sputter--Hunter-Chaffee and her cast have trouble with tempo, especially in the first act, when the comedy all but crawls--Gallagher and Baird enliven the story with their comfortable banter.
Of course, they'd do even better if the director picked up the pace, which only reaches a gallop midway in the second act. There just aren't enough passages that get the audience as excited as when Gallagher, in men's clothes, revs up the second act with Rosalind's spirited hoodwinking of Orlando and her waxing on the wonders of love.
It doesn't help that the plot isn't much to speak of. Duke Frederick (Michael Havnaer), a nasty guy who has usurped the nicer Duke Senior's (A. Don Altman) domain, banishes Senior's daughter, Rosalind, from the castle. Duke Frederick's child, Celia (Holly Orfanedes), tags along as they venture into the forest. Rosalind hides out in the guise of a man, while her best friend masquerades as a peasant.
Orlando splits for the woods after learning that his creepy brother, Oliver (Mark Schuliger), is plotting to murder him. The woods get a bit crowded as everybody runs into Duke Senior and his followers, including the melancholy and cynical Jaques (Richard Irving), who have been hiding there for weeks. Besides the starring couple, a few other matings ensue, and the ending is as happy as can be.
In addition to Baird and Gallagher, the best performances belong to Irving and Orfanedes. Irving's Jaques is appropriately weary as he mocks everyone and everything while romance blooms wildly around him. And Orfanedes' Celia is the right foil for Rosalind, providing a bit of spice every now and then when Rosalind's own isn't enough.
Set designer K. Robert Eaton frames the low-key action in rather rudimentary ways. The thick glade is reduced to a few tree cutouts, and Duke Ferdinand's court is only evoked by a small throne, really just a plushed-up chair. This look is serviceable but little more.
* "As You Like It," Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Ends March 18. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.
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Dorothy A. Gallagher: Rosalind
Brenan Baird: Orlando
Holly Orfanedes: Celia
Robert Brooke: Touchstone
Michael Havnaer: Duke Frederick
A. Don Altman: Duke Senior
Richard Irving: Jaques
Mark Schuliger: Oliver
Bryan Butrum: Charles/William
Lisa Antablian: Phebe
Kim Burnes: Audrey
Clive Rees: Le Beau/Oliver Martext
Paul Connelly: Corin
Guy Maynard: Adam
Kenny Rice: Silvius
Rob Rainey: Jaques De Boys
Jon Dolton: Amiens
Jason Jacobs: A Lord
Scott Farinha: A Lord
John Bohne: Lord to Frederick/Hymen
A Long Beach Playhouse production. Play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Darlene Hunter-Chaffee. Sets by K. Robert Eaton. Lighting by Martin Eckmann. Costumes by Donna Fritsche. Sound by Elon Abrams. Stage manager: Rob Rainey.