The Classical Theatre Lab has returned to West Hollywood for their third consecutive summer of Shakespeare In The Parks with a well-acted and directed production of Twelfth Night Or What You Will.

Not the easiest of Shakespeare’s comedies to follow, Twelfth Night’s particularly convoluted plot features a number of the Bard’s favorite conceits, gender-switching, mistaken identity, and a set of twins. In Twelfth Night, the latter are a fraternal pair, male and female, who look and sound nothing at all alike, yet all the female of the matched set has to do is put on men’s clothing (coincidentally the very same quirky outfit worn by her long lost brother) to be taken as her male sibling by everyone she meets. Then again, suspension of disbelief is de rigueur in Shakespeare.

Twelfth Night’s cast of youngish lovers includes Viola (Julie Alexander), who disguises herself as Cesario to get work as a page to Duke Orsino (John Crawford), who is in love with Olivia (Victoria Hoffman).  Viola’s twin Sebastian (Michael Yurchak), long separated from his sister following a shipwreck, is accompanied by hunky Antonio (Pete Scherer), who director Armin Shimerman’s program note reveals to be “recklessly in love” with Sebastian.  (What could be more appropriate for a production being staged in a West Hollywood park?)

Comic relief is provided by Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Michael Matthys), her servant Maria (Jean Gilpin), and Sir Toby’s friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a particularly funny Barry Saltzman), also interested in Olivia. There’s also a gentleman named Malvolio (Stephen Moramarco), who gets many laughs when tricked into wearing yellow stockings and cross-garters.

Completing the cast are Orsinos’ fool Feste (Will Badgett, accompanying himself on guitar to tuneful self-penned melodies), a gentleman named Curio (Joseph Beck), a captain and a priest (John Copeland in both roles), and a gentlewoman (stage manager Linden Majack).

There’s not a weak performance in this quite capably directed outdoor production, abetted by Shakespearean scholar Shimerman’s insights. Costumes by Douglas Spesert are a nice Elizabethan mix, and Brad Wilcox’s fight choreography makes for some funny/exciting swordplay.

Classical Theatre Lab’s “in the park” setting is a walled-in courtyard, and since folding chairs are provided, there’s no need to bring blankets.  Don’t plan on bringing food or drink, as the setting is more formal than some other Shakespeare In The Parks.  Do bring along some extra concentration skills, as the company’s fine acting is accompanied by the roar of airplanes overhead, shouts of nearby ball players, and other assorted afternoon park noises. Expect also to be hot during the first forty-five minutes or so, till the sun sets low enough to provide shade seating.  CTL does provide complimentary straw sun hats for comfort and protection.

The more you love Shakespeare, the more you’ll enjoy this production of Twelfth Night, and the whole thing is entirely free of charge. In these economic times, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Plummer Park, Fiesta Hall, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood.
                                                                                     Photos: Michael Landman-Karny

–Steven Stanley
August 1, 2009

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