Shakespeare Theatre of NJ goes outside for comedy ‘As You Like It’

as you like it nj review


From left, Billie Wyatt, Matthew Radford Davies and Brianna Martinez co-star in The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s outdoor production of “As You Like It.”

“What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue?” asks Orlando, finding himself unable to speak after falling in love at first sight with Rosalind in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Fortunately, though, the characters in this play — one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies — are rarely at such a loss for works.


Jose Gamo in “As You Like It.”

One of the things that “As You Like It” is most notable for, in fact, is its long, memorable monologues. Most famous is the melancholy nobleman Jaque’s “All the world’s a stage” speech, which includes his explanation of the seven ages of man (“At first, the infant/Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms./Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel/And shining morning face, creeping like snail/Unwillingly to school,” and so on). But there is also the jester Touchstone’s strange, precisely detailed discourse on the seven stages of argument (the retort courteous, the quip modest, the reply churlish, the reproof valiant, the countercheck quarrelsome, the lie with circumstance, and the lie direct). And Rosalind has a wonderful, head-spinning speech near the end, in which she cleverly ensures happy endings for the play’s four love stories, including her own, while keeping her true identity (she has disguised herself as a young man, Ganymede) a secret.

“I will marry you if ever I marry woman, and I’ll be married tomorrow,” she pledges to Phoebe, who is in love with Ganymede and doesn’t realize (1) that Ganymede is really Rosalind and (2) that Rosalind is planning to marry Orlando.

The play is set, mostly, in the Forest of Arden, to which Rosalind and her cousin Celia have fled to escape the wrath of Celia’s cruel father, Duke Frederick. And therefore it is well suited to be presented outdoors, as The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is currently doing at the open-air theater at Saint Elizabeth University in Florham Park.


Jeffrey M. Bender, left, and Clark Carmichael in “As You Like It.”

Set designer Gabby Trice adds some greenery for the scenes in the forest, as opposed to the scenes that take place in Duke Frederick’s court, but doesn’t do much, otherwise, to try to suggest a rustic setting. Overall, this production, which is directed by Jemma Alix Levy, is a pretty minimal, traditional one, drawing its strength, primarily, from its formidable cast — 10 actors who show great comedic flair while also delivering Shakespeare’s lines clearly and naturally.

This is the second show that STNJ is presenting under its new artistic director, Brian B. Crowe. The first — a greatly entertaining production of the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” on the indoor F.M Kirby Shakespeare Theatre stage at Drew University — featured many actors making their STNJ debuts. But “As You Like It” — which STNJ last presented just five years ago, though that was an indoor show — is full of actors who will be familiar to longtime STNJ patrons, including Billie Wyatt as Rosalind; Jeffrey M. Bender as both the genial Duke Senior and the over-confident wrestler Charles; Clark Carmichael as both Duke Frederick and Jaques; and Christian Frost as Oliver (a villain at first, but later reformed), the befuddled vicar Sir Oliver Martext, and the lovestruck youth William.

(Note: Seven of the 10 actors play two or more roles; a quick review the play’s characters and plot beforehand will help you keep everything straight.)


Emily S. Chang in “As You Like It.”

Wyatt and Brianna Martinez, who plays Celia, are convincing as resourceful survivors — Wyatt’s manly grunts when disguising herself as Ganymede are hilarious — though when they are in the presence of their respective love interests, they turn into giddy teenagers. Emily S. Chang is also excellent as the shepherdess Phoebe, who rejects her suitor Silvius with fierce, arresting disdain. Meanwhile, Jason Schlaman plays Silvius with so much vulnerability that you can’t help but root for him.

Chang also sings very well in one of her other roles. There is more music in “As You Like It,” by the way, than in any other Shakespeare play.

Bender has his best scene in the smaller of his two roles, grappling with boisterous showiness, like a modern professional wrestler, with Orlando, the play’s primary male character, who is played with appropriately boyish charm by Jose Gamo.

The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s annual outdoor production is a dependable highlight of the New Jersey theater year. This may be a fairly straightforward take on a familiar classic. But it still lives up to that tradition.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey will present “As You Like It” on the outdoor stage at Saint Elizabeth University in Florham Park through July 14. There is no admission charge for those 17 and younger. Attendees are encouraged to bring low-backed beach chairs, stadium seats, or blankets. Visit


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