MUCH ADO ABOUT TRTC’S ‘AS YOU LIKE IT’

muchTonight’s free screening of director Joss Whedon’s 2012 film of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING kicks off a series of special events, keyed to Two River Theater Company’s upcoming production of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT.

It’s described as “a comedy of cross-dressing heroines and triumphant heroes,” one in which a company of vivid characters “must learn to confront their own fears and limitations — and surrender to romance.”

When the Two River Theater Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It goes up in previews on January 25, its entrance will have been heralded by a slate of special events designed to spark new interest in the Bard’s 400-year old play across all segments of the audience. It’s a schedule that includes an open rehearsal, informative discussions, a dedicated poetry slam — even a special “Little Shakespeare” adaptation, custom-crafted for school-age theatergoers.

Before all that, however, TRTC revisits another Shakespearean comedy — one that it staged back in 2011 — when the branded Bridge Avenue performing arts center hosts a free screening of the 2012 cinema adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Superstar director Joss Whedon took a break from shooting the Avengers blockbuster to assemble a nimble no-star cast (including Marvel’s Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg) for this contemporary take on the “merry war” of courtship and marriage, filmed (in black and white) in and around Whedon’s own home. The movie shows at 7:30 pm tonight, with free tickets reserved through the Two River box office — and attendees will have the opportunity to win a Joss Whedon Prize Pack that boasts a bevy of Buffy, Firefly and Marvel superhero collectibles.

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Actor Jacob Fishel, star of last season’s HENRY V, returns to Two River Theater to take part in a special Thursday night “open rehearsal” for his new project, AS YOU LIKE IT.

This Thursday night, audiences will get a first sneak-peek look at the production that officially opens on January 31, when TRTC invites the public to watch an “open rehearsal” of As You Like It. Michael Sexton and Jacob Fishel — director and lead actor of last season’s Henry V — return to Red Bank for this 7:30 pm session, joined by Miriam A. Hyman (who plays Rosalind to Fishel’s Orlando) in a free presentation, without finished set or costumes, that fellow cast member Geoffrey Owens describes as “a chance to get inside the director’s head.” The actors will explain their approaches to Shakespeare’s text and language, and coffee and dessert will be served to attendees following the rehearsal.

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Owens, a longtime regular on The Cosby Show and a Broadway veteran whose many Shakespearean credits include the recent Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom, joins the cast as the cynical observer Jaques, in a production for which the actors will be singing (and accompanying themselves on various instruments) a set of original songs by composer Ben Toth.

TRTC Artistic Director John Dias, whose program notes have gone a long way toward illuminating stage works old and new for the Two River audience, will host a “Shakespeare 101″ discussion inside the theater’s second floor Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library on the evening of Thursday, January 23. The veteran of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater will address “how directors and designers make choices about sets and costumes, and how actors learn to speak Shakespeare’s heightened language in a way that makes it accessible to audiences.” Questions for the 7:30 pm session can be submitted in advance to Dias via Two River’s Facebook Page.

The Mastrobuono Library is the setting once again for the latest in the monthly Loser Slam series of poetry events, with the program on Monday, January 27 dedicated to the theme of romance — “or something creatively Bard-themed” — as inspired by As You Like It. The public is invited to attend the 7 pm open mic, either to perform or to share in the energy of this popular assembly of area poets and spoken word specialists.

Then on February 4-8, concurrent with the run of As You Like It, Two River will present A Little Shakespeare, a 75-minute version of the play (adapted and directed by Jason McDowell-Green) in the building’s black-box Marion Huber Theater. Performed by a cast of high school students, and designed for ages 9 and up, the production will also feature live original music. In addition to four student matinees, there will be performances open to the general public on February 7 at 7pm, and February 8 at 12 and 4pm.

Keep it tuned to redbankgreen for more on As You Like It and Geoffrey Owens — and take it here for tickets ($20 – $65 for adults; $25 ages 18 and younger) and info on additional special events, including a post-show presentation on February 9 by Fordham University professor Mary Bly (alias bestselling romance novelist Eloisa James).