The Elden Street Players are presenting William Shakespeare's "As You Like It." It is glorious to see this playwright in community theater. His comedies are great family fare and offer, in addition to vibrant characters and exciting plots, that sublime but neglected brain food: language.
That brings us to the only demand that must be met by such a theater in doing Shakespeare: It must be spoken clearly. The judgment as to whether it is spoken well (a must in professional theater) may be left to the audience.
Matters are complicated here by a modern-dress presentation in which the temptation to behave in a '90s "Hey, I'm cool" manner has not been removed.
Several performers do speak well and rise to the kind of energetic commitment Shakespeare demands.
Teresa Aceves is a wonderful Celia, though director David Jackson fails to involve her in the forest scenes, giving the impression that the part has suddenly dropped from the play.
Jeff Palmer makes a reasonable Orlando, though when angered he shouts throughout his speeches, and he makes short work of any romantic stuff.
Cole Mallard understands Adam, and brings off with honors the biggest casting reach of this production. Michael Gutesha, as Oliver, and Al Fetske as Duke Frederick also are triumphant in both word and deed.
Wayne Reusch enriches the production with his Silvius, as silly and lovestruck as Shakespeare could have wished, and charming to boot.
David Jackson makes an extremely effective Touchstone, though his Audrey (Linda Gutesha) is far more "foul," and the place of this pair in the story is not clear.
As Rosalind, Rena Cherry Brown has her moments, but there is present a restraint, a self-awareness inappropriate to the role. Boy's garb should liberate her, allow her to be reckless, but Brown behaves the same. There is no abandon in this performance.
Ray Hamilton should bring up the volume on a lovely performance as Corin; J. Neel Ellis could use more excess as Le Beau and more largesse as Jacques de Bois; Les Zidel should remove much excess from Sir Oliver Martext. Susan Heyman plays Phoebe at least two decades older than she is.
Finally, there is a brave, complex and riveting performance of the melancholy Jacques by Bill Fleming.
No credit is given for set design, but this is one of the most efficient and amusing budget solutions to the two-set production problem ever.
Costumes also credit no designer, but having the ladies in any black at any time is truly incomprehensible, and more definition all around would have been helpful. For example, Orlando looks like your average high school student, and should look like a working farmhand. The gentlemen in the forest could watch football games in what they're wearing. Camping or survival gear, today, would have been a more telling choice.
Elden Street is to be commended for bringing Shakespeare to the Industrial Strength Theater. They should include him in every future season.
"As You Like It," presented by the Elden Street Players, Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon. For information and reservations, call 703-481-5930.