Stage Reviews

“As You Like It” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers”

This “As You Like It” was made for you and me.

Appearing in Southland outdoor theaters, this production by Shakespeare Festival/LA is one of the more appealing “updated” versions of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s play examines a return to nature. Those living in urban France exhibit competitive, even violent tendencies. Once they move to the forest, their priorities change and they feel a fellowship for each other and for nature.

Director Ben Donenberg has set this version in the 1960s. He has replaced all those “Hey, ho, nonino” songs with music by ’60s activists, including Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and The Weavers, and the audience is encouraged to sing along.

While the original begins in an orchard, this version begins in a factory, the workers in coveralls singing “If I Had a Hammer.” The forest folk sing “Turn, Turn, Turn” and welcome Orlando with “You Made Me a Pallet on Your Floor.” The wedding scene features “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and the happy ending has everyone humming and strumming “This Land is Your Land.”

Rosalind (Jane Longenecker) and Celia (Marika Becz in a sturdy, natural performance) are ’60s chicks in minis and go-go boots. The forest folk are flannel-shirted tree huggers. The wrestling scene is staged la World Wrestling Federation including sequins and microphones. Touchstone (Lance Davis in a tasty turn) is a golf-club-toting butler. But ever-so-timeless is Tom Ramirez as the mopey Jacques, proving that eternal pessimism is never out of style.

Director Donenberg makes sure all speak clearly and plainly, with no phoney “Shakespearean” accents. Other acting standouts include Amie Farrell as a sit-com Audrey and, in secondary roles, Jose Mercado, whose voice cuts through the night air of the outdoor theater.

Set designer Douglas Rogers imaginatively creates Arden Forest with acid-green lighting and Caulder-esque mobiles of leaves.

“As You Like It” plays 8:30 p.m. through Aug 1 at South Coast Botanic Gardens, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula. Tel. 310.377.4316.

It’s not that women are always either angry, neurotic or distraught. We know that, and playwright Neil Simon knows that. However, to Poor Barney Cashman, his protagonist in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” it seems that’s all they are.

It’s the early ’70s, and the long-married Barney wants to be drafted into the sexual revolution. Operating out of his mother’s apartment while she’s away doing charity work, he brings three women there for afternoon trysts.

“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is in production at Westchester Playhouse, directed by Toni LaMonica and starring some competent talent.

This slightly off-target production is worth seeing for the performance of Roxanne Meyers as Bobbi, the Act II assignation. Meyers electrifies this model-actress-whatever from her beaded headband to her white patent-leather. She gives her self-absorbed side an unself-consciousness and her free-spirited side myriad details — she walks clumsily, she wiggles her toes. And unlike many actors, Meyers also knows how to continue dialogue over audience laughter.

As Barney, Steve Keeley is nearly invisible in her presence. He has more success in Act III opposite Barbara Clifford as Jeanette. Theirs is a more poignant relationship, as the two characters, each married, have known each other for 12 years. Keeley does well with the more serious side of Barney, and Clifford gives Barbara a ’50s vibe so we believe she’s not about to enjoy the ’70s. Lisa Bala likewise does best in more serious moments of Act I’s Elaine.

There’s also a bit too much clowning: The sofa bed launches Keeley as he tries to open it; he tosses Jeanette’s purse around after he pries it from her unwilling arms.

Simon’s dialogue is funny enough without physical shtick and had the audience laughing even without the best of comic delivery.

Costume designer Arlene Cohen captures period and characters.

“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” plays through Aug. 14 at Westchester Playhouse. Call 310.645.5156.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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