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ALL RED BANK’S A STAGE, FOR ACTOR OWENS

GeoffreyOwensFormer COSBY SHOW cast member Geoffrey Owens is BACK, as Jaques — and Two River Theater Company’s got him, as previews begin this weekend for TRTC’s production of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT.

By TOM CHESEK

As a regular for the last seven seasons of The Cosby Show, Geoffrey Owens was part of a pop-cultural juggernaut that TV Guide named as The Greatest Sitcom of the 1980s; a Reagan-era repository of positive role models and fatherly sweaters that consistently topped the Nielsens — before ultimately being toppled by The Simpsons and other heirs to the throne of tubeland’s most dysfunctional modern family.

While his recurring role as Cliff Huxtable’s occasionally opinionated but nice-guy son-in-law Elvin allowed him to have the odd moment of good-natured fun with Bill Cosby’s proven shtick, it wasn’t until returning to the stage that the son of former U.S. Congressman Major Owens discovered a surprising specialty — as a sought-after interpreter of the comedic and tragic characters from the quill of Wm. Shakespeare.

Seen recently on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet (with Orlando Bloom), Owens has starred and co-starred in major productions of Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and many others — including a Joseph Papp-produced As You Like It that brought him to the Broadway boards as Orlando, the exiled young noble and dashing leading man of the Bard’s “comedy of cross-dressing heroines and triumphant heroes.” Beginning this weekend, the actor returns to As You Like It‘s “Forest of Arden” setting for the first in a series of preview performances this Saturday night, January 25.

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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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‘CANDIDA’ REVIEWS: A FRESH LOOK AT SHAW

cremin-diasSue Cremin, who has the title role in ‘Candida,’ with TRTC artistic director John Dias after Saturday’s opening-night show. Below, former ‘Cosby Show‘ star Geoffrey Owens, right, returned to the TRTC, where he starred in ‘Opus‘ earlier this season, and ran into former ‘Frazier‘ star David Hyde Pierce. (Click to enlarge)

hyde-pierce-geoffrey-owensEarly reviews of the Two River Theater Company‘s new production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Candida‘ find it a fresh take on a play that made its debut in 1898.

Star-Ledger theater critic Peter Filichia says the Red Bank production nears its conclusion with a moment of suspense, something not usually associated with the play’s author.

And Asbury Park Press reviewer Tom Chesek (who also writes for redbankgreen) says director David Staller “has revealed a play that’s actually contemporary at heart.”

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BRAVOS FOR ‘OPUS’ AT TWO RIVER THEATER

anjanette-hall Anjanette Hall, who plays the wide-eyed new member of a string quartet, at the opening-night reception at the Two River Theater on Saturday. Former ‘Cosby Show’ star Geoffrey Owens, below, plays the cellist. (Click to enlarge)

geoffrey-owens

Opus,’ a piquant drama about a fractious string quartet that’s commanding the mainstage at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company through November 14, is getting some positive ink.

In the Star-Ledger, theater critic Peter Filicihia calls Michael Hollinger‘s play, which focuses on the effect that a shattered romantic relationship has on the quartet, “bittersweet but delicious.”

“Director Matthew Arbour has orchestrated the 90-minute show with loving care,” Filichia writes.

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TRTC ‘LIKE HOME’ FOR ‘OPUS’ DIRECTOR

matthew-arbour-102310Director Matthew Arbour oversees an ensemble cast that includes a COSBY SHOW veteran as the play OPUS begins its run this week at Two River Theater. (Click to enlarge)

By TOM CHESEK

With its first mainstage production (Intimate Apparel) of the 2010-2011 season, Two River Theater Company managed to hit one out of the park — a feat that set the bar pretty high for everything to follow, but is ultimately just another reason to swing for the fences with its latest, which begins previews tonight.

In Opus, by classical musician-turned-dramatist Michael Hollinger, “personalities clash, tensions rise, and four musicians grapple with how far they will go to achieve excellence,” as the members of a string quartet are forced to scramble to replace a temperamental star player who’s fired just days before the biggest concert of their careers.

Described by its director as “a play about a quartet with five actors,” it’s an ensemble piece that numbers among its players a familiar face from one of the most popular TV shows of the past 25 years — none other than Geoffrey Owens, who played the Huxtables’ son-in-law Elvin on The Cosby Show for seven of the hit sitcom’s eight seasons. The stage/screen actor (son, by the by, of former Congressman Major Owens) is joined onstage by Craig Baldwin, Anjanette Hall, Saxon Palmer, and Kevin Kelly (seen previously in TRTC’s All My Sons).

About that director. He’s named Matthew Arbour, and he’s a local guy “making good” by his own estimation — having grown up in Little Silver, graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, and gone on to become a sought-after theater professional whose projects have won acclaim from Manhattan to Missouri. A beyond-busy Arbour planted it for a few minutes during “tech week,” to give redbankgreen the dope on Opus and otherwise.

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