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Comedy's full of nice touches

TURLOCK — Romantics will sigh at the last scene of the California State University, Stanislaus, outdoor staging of "As You Like It."

Four young couples marry by torchlight under a huge, full paper moon while a peasant sprinkles them with sparkling confetti. It's a lovely ending to this generally amiable if not flawless production, presented for the university's second annual Shakespeare Festival.

Director Jere O'Donnell is adept at creating magical moments and coming up with clever touches that liven up the 400-year-old comedy. His staging includes live goats and a caped and masked wrestler who looks like he would be at home in the World Wrestling Entertainment matches.

Because of the enchanting forest set designed by Noble Dinse, the show makes a good impression before even a verse of iambic pentameter is spoken. There is green everywhere from the painted trees on the backdrop to the tangled vines that drape over a little hill.

A small waterfall and pool hidden in the dense foliage add to the "ooh" and "ah" factor for those who are sharp-eyed enough to spot them.

During the opening scenes set at the court, O'Donnell adds several banners evocative of palace life and fills the stage with elegantly dressed aristocrats. This sets us up to better appreciate the contrast between city life and untamed nature (a key theme of the play) when the main characters begin their new life in the woods.

Emily Gomes is solid as Rosalind, the noblewoman who moves to the forest and dons a disguise as a boy. Christopher Zumaran is mannerly as Orlando, Rosalind's beloved, who is exiled into the woods by his jealous brother. But both seem too inhibited and worried about making mistakes. Like some other cast members, the two also need to speak up.

Happily, it was not difficult at all to understand Craig Tyhurst and Matthew Valladares, some of the most charismatic performers on the stage. As the trombone-playing jester, Touchstone, the witty Tyhurst seems like a fun person to have around at a party.

Valladares, who plays the lovesick Silvius, is skilled at physical comedy. He leaps around like a monkey on the onstage trees and swoons dramatically when his beloved Phebe rejects his romantic attentions.

Andrew Sutherland, a theater professor who plays the melancholy Jacques, obviously is more experienced and comfortable on stage than his castmates. He is a very engaging performer but he missed the mark on his most famous speech, "All the world's a stage." His disinterested delivery of the insightful monologue was no more memorable than someone talking about what groceries they were going to pick up at the store.

Joshua Morriston shows his versatility as both the good Duke Senior and the evil Duke Frederick, while Michael Caine brings a peaceful presence as the shepherd Corin. Lyz Butticci uses her squeaky high voice to give an innocent quality to Rosalind's best friend, Celia.

Talented costume designer Caroline Mercier dresses the performers in frilly, ornately decorated Renaissance attire.

The grounds open 90 minutes before the performance for picnicking. Word to the wise if you plan to attend: Bring a light jacket for when the sun goes down. Turlock may be hot during the day, but the breeze can make for chilly evenings.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 orlmillegan@modbee.com.

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