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SOUTHLAND SHAKESPEARE HAS A GAY, NOT-SO-OLD TIME.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Critic

We begin in stuffy Pasadena, where the usurping mayor oversees drag racing in the Rose Bowl, and gradually cruise out to the Mojave Desert, where burned- out Hollywood producers jam with joke writers; a politician's daughter dons male drag and takes over a cactus business; dim park rangers lust after auto mechanics; and the language of Shakespeare is peppered with allusions to local landmarks, Dick Cheney and gay marriage.

The Bard's ``As You Like It'' has never depicted an Arden quite like this one. It's a ``California Concoction'' the likes of which the Cornerstone Theater Company and adapter Alison Carey is best fit to serve.

For 20 years, the company has been adapting classical texts to suit the character of a specific community, both across the country and throughout Los Angeles. Professional actors and community members make up the mixture, and the results are often dramatically exciting and illuminating.

Carey's ``As You Like It,'' a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse, uses the city of Pasadena as its home base and point of departure. Not sure what Pasadenans will make of a play that insists freedom can only be obtained when you leave the Rose City, but this Shakespearean/Californian oleo is a bouncy journey nonetheless.

Lynn Jeffries' warm, brown scenery design starts outside a ranch-style estate and gives way to rolling sand dunes and desert flora. Banished mayor's daughter Rosalind (played entirely camp-free by Christopher Liam Moore) takes to the desert, where her father (Gerald Hiken) was similarly exiled. Donning male cowboy regalia and calling herself Loverboy, she encounters Orlando (Leith Burke), who had fallen head over cactus for Rosalind, whom he met back in Pasadena. No problem, Loverboy tells Orlando. I'll give you lessons in love to win your gal.

Moore, an actor who mixes giddiness with understatement, will have you convinced that he is both a woman playing a difficult game and a qualified impersonator/instructor in the ways of men. Cornerstone production or no Cornerstone production, this is a role he was clearly meant to play.

Also kicking around the Mojave are Touchstone (Jonathan Del Arco), the mayor's former joke writer who wants nothing more than a union with grease monkey Aubrey (Benajah Cobb). But even in the all-embracing desert, that's a problem in a state that wavers over its recognition of gay marriage. Fry cook Sylvius (Christian Barillas) pines for waitress Phebe (Bahni Turpin), who only has goo-goo eyes for the disguised Rosalind. Oops.

Throw in a couple more pairings, and love is sprouting like tumbleweeds. Director Bill Rauch frequently beats us over the head with the idea, accompanying every first glance between eventual couples with a blast of light and a noisy whoosh!

Love and acceptance in all forms is every bit the name of the game here. Rosalind can't quite face it; Orlando's sister Olivia (Lisa Tharps) is new to it. Touchstone and Aubrey can't legalize it, and on it goes.

The politics of love-strain play a mite heavy-handed toward the end, and Carey's agent of resolution is seriously goofy. Moore's Rosalind wraps things up in a heartfelt epilogue that speaks as much for the performer as for his character.

Probably for the director as well. This ``As You Like It'' is a farewell of sorts, as it represents co-founder and outgoing artistic director Rauch's directing swan song with the company. (New artistic director Michael John Garces takes over April 1). ``Like It'' or not, Rauch has left one amazing legacy. And in Pasadena, a desert of delights.

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson(at)dailynews.com

AS YOU LIKE IT: A CALIFORNIA CONCOCTION - Three stars

Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through April 16.

Tickets: $38 to $60. (626) 356-7529.

www.Pasadena Playhouse.org

Playing: Love, politics, gay marriage and Shakespeare in the desert.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Lisa Tharps and Leith Burke are Olivia and Orlando, respectively, in ``As You Like It: A California Concoction.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 24, 2006
Words:680
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