The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival (NJSF) opens its 2000 season with a new version of Alexander Ostrovsky’s 870 comedy, The Forest by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Previews began June 13. The show opens June 18 and continues until July 2 at the Festival’s F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, located on the campus of Drew University.
Ayckbourn wrote it for the National Theatre in London, where it premiered last year. This is the first time the new production will see the United States. The director is Bonnie J. Monte.
With 50 plays under Ostrovsky's belt, The Forest stands out as one of his best-known best achievements. It tells the story of two vagabond actors who invade an isolated rich country estate and wreak havoc. They meet a wealthy widow scheming to win the love of a young bachelor, a young couple plotting to elope, and a group of comic servants. With the characters introduced, the two actors concoct a ruse to fill their empty stomachs. In the end, the story conveys humor and a message against hypocrisy. It has a Russian feel with universal morals.
The two actors are played by Paul Mullins (a tragedian, Neschastlivtsev) and Malcolm Tulip (a comedian, Schastlivtsev). The translations of the characters’ names are unhappy, and happy, respectively. Mullins has worked with director Monte several times in the past. Both have been a part of the NJSF for 10 years. Tulip debuted at the festival last year, playing Lord Byron in Camino Real.
Judith Anna Roberts plays Raisa Pavlovna, the lady who presides over the large estate. She was in the 1996 production of Present Laughter on Broadway with Frank Langella. Other cast members include NJSF familiar faces Tom Brennan as Bodayev, Dudley Knight as the merchant Vosmibratov, Greg Derelian as his young son, Pyotr, and Jim Mohr and Debbie Lee Jones as the servants. New to the Festival are Darrill Rosen, Jennifer Curfman, and Tom Biglin. The Forest showtimes are 8 PM Tuesday Saturday, selected Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM, and selected Sundays at 7 PM. There will be a post-play discussion with the cast and artistic staff June 20 at 8 PM and June 24 at 2 PM.
Other shows for the NJSF season include Twelfth Night (July 11 30), Rhinoceros (Aug. 8-27), Antony and Cleopatra (Sept. 5 30), Romeo and Juliet (September 5-30), Othello (October 24-November 19), and The Blue Bird (November 28- December 17). For ticket information, call (973) 408-5600. Discounts are available at (973) 408-3261 for groups of 15 or more.
-- by Daniel Fischer