Shakespeare's great romantic comedy features probably his best female role -- Rosalind, the banished princess who knows what love is and is not, who understands both its importance and its limits -- yet you wouldn't know it from this Shotgun Players production. It does have some wonderful supporting performances: As the melancholy Jacques, Jeff Elam humorously conveys disdain for his companions' jollity, his clear tenor making the most of Shakespeare's speeches. And Christopher Kukenbaker's foolish, foppish Touchstone is a delight, in one scene aping first Jack Nicholson and then Bill Clinton. He's also rather dashing, striking poses in his purple gloves and oversized, soft hat that continually slips over his eyes. Danny Wolohan is very funny as the wrestler George, and Michelle Talgarow's haughty, smitten Phebe has a lively presence. (Both also have amusing turns as slain deer in the Forest of Arden.) The entire cast is comfortable with the language, clearly conveying the text's meaning, though often its flow is broken to elucidate a phrase or wring out a joke. Unfortunately, Beth Donohue's Rosalind is a neurotic screwball. She clasps and unclasps her hands and gestures with each line, tearing around the stage, mugging funny asides to the audience, even throwing herself to the floor occasionally. At times, she's more Lucy Ricardo than Shakespearean heroine. Donohue works hard, and it's almost all wrong; Shakespeare's Rosalind isn't a romantic, but there's plenty of romance in her. Donohue substitutes ardor and desperation instead, and the scenes between Rosalind (as Ganymede) and Orlando (Ryan Gowland) have no erotic tension. Director Patrick Dooley is so eager to find the comedy in As You Like It that he ignores the tenderness. As Rosalind says of Phebe's letter, "Why, 'tis a boisterous and a cruel style" -- and despite some true comic achievements, it doesn't suit Shakespeare's play.
Through Oct. 8 at John Hinkel Park, on Southampton off The Arlington in North Berkeley. On Sept. 10 only, the show travels to McLaren Park, Visitacion Valley Road, S.F. Admission is free; call (510) 655-0813.