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Theater review: 'Twelfth Night' at Plummer Park

July 27, 2009 | 10:20 am

Twelfth Night

The dedicated folks at the Classical Theatre Lab gather weekly to explore, parse and generally play with language-rich classical texts. Their meetings sometimes result in staged readings, and those readings more rarely result in full-blown productions.

 “Twelfth Night,” presented in the courtyard outside Plummer Park’s Fiesta Hall, marks the company’s third season of free Shakespeare in the Park. Despite the constant cacophony of a nearby children’s playground and the occasional low-flying helicopter, it’s a lovely setting to experience Shakespeare’s rollicking comedy.

Perhaps best known as the Ferengi bartender Quark on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” director Armin Shimerman boasts an extensive list of classical theater credits. That experience reflects in this current production, which in terms of its language, at least, is impressively cogent, with a cast well-equipped to handle the challenging rhythms of Shakespeare’s verse. Unfortunately, when it comes to sheer physical dynamism, Shimerman’s curiously static staging doesn’t get far beyond the staged-reading phase. His actors, articulate though they may be, do not so much romp as plod.

The complicated plot revolves around the shipwrecked Viola (Julie Alexander), twin to Sebastian (Michael Yurchak), who has supposedly perished at sea. When she washes ashore in the kingdom of Illyria, Viola dons boy’s garb and joins the court of the lovelorn Count Orsino (John D. Crawford), who enlists his new courtier to act as go-between to the reticent Countess Olivia (Victoria Hoffman). Of course, Olivia falls hard not for the Count but for his beardless emissary, setting the stage for further confusion of the most unlikely kind.

The lovers are uniformly capable and engaging, and although a bit bland, they more than suffice for the purpose. However, in this case, the fault lies not in the stars but in the clowns, that preposterous bevy of fools and schemers that should enliven this improbable romance with plenty of low burlesque.

That requisite silliness goes begging. Most fortunate among this lot of jokers and wastrels is Will Badgett as the wise fool, Feste, whose Simon and Garfunkel-esque tunes punctuate the action. The athletically handsome Michael Matthys, who plays Sir Toby Belch, never reaches the necessary heights of boozy, blowsy dissolution, and while Jean Gilpin is effectively devious as the maid, Maria, her sexual chemistry with Matthys fails to sizzle.  As Sir Toby’s foil, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Barry Saltzman gets a few laughs but is not as consistently idiotic as he should be. And while Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, should progress from rectitude to terror to resentment, Stephen Moramarco never advances beyond a certain sullen competence.

-- F. Kathleen Foley 

Twelfth Night,” outside Plummer Park’s Fiesta Hall, 1200 N. Vista St., West Hollywood. 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.  Ends Aug. 23.  Free.  Reservations recommended.  (323) 960-5691.  Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: (From left) Victoria Hoffman, Michael Matthys, Michael Yurchak in "Twelfth Night." Credit: Classical Theatre Lab