12th NIGHT

Twelfth Night. Eighty minutes. No intermission. Shakespeare purists may cavil, but to those with more contemporary sensibilities, these words could hardly be more musical to the ears.

A shorter, brisker running time proves but one of many reasons why Vanguard Rep’s stripped-down 12th Night comes as such a delightful treat this summer season. Add to that inventive direction by adapter Sam R. Ross and featured player Matthew Kellen Burgos, sparkling performances by an all-Equity cast of nine, a splendid production design, and an optional pre-show bring-your-own-feast picnic with a panoramic view of the San Gabriel Valley and you’ve got a 2012 La Cañada Flintridge Shakespeare Festival offering too irresistible to say “No” to.

 Despite streamlining, the plot remains the same. There’s a set of fraternal twins, male and female, who’d seem at first or even second glance to look and sound nothing at all alike. Still, all the female of the matched set has to do is put on men’s britches (and, at Vanguard Rep, a hoodie to hide her hair)—an outfit that is conveniently the very same one worn by her long-lost brother—and our fair maiden gets taken as her male sibling by friends and strangers alike. Then again, what would a Shakespeare comedy be without suspension of disbelief.

12th Night’s cast of young lovers includes Viola (Abby Wilde), who disguises herself as “Cesario” to get work as a page to Duke Orsino (Corey Sorenson), who is in love with Olivia (Jen Faith Brown). Viola’s twin Sebastian (Adam Burch), long separated from his sister following a shipwreck, is on his own at Vanguard Rep, his loyal hanger-on Antonio having fallen victim to the delete key.

Comic relief amidst all this romance is provided by Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Peter Colburn), her servant Maria (Cynthia Beckert), and Sir Toby’s friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Burgos), who happens also to be smitten with Olivia. There’s also an oddball gentleman named Malvolio (Michael Faulkner) who inspires laughs aplenty, particularly when tricked by the aforementioned trio into wearing “yellow stockings and purple cross-garters” (or their semi-contemporary equivalent) .

Completing the cast is Feste (Matthew Bohrer), observer of all that transpires on scenic designer Brent Mason’s two-tons-of-sand circular sandbox and its pair of adjacent parlors, the handsome young fellow ever ready with a “Hey Nonnie Nonnie” and a song (to which cast members often lend their vocal support).

As for Fabian, Curio, Valentine, and other dramatis personae usually figuring in Shakespeare’s tale, well for those gents you’ll just have to wait for the deleted scenes reel since in Ross & Burgos’s 12th Night, who needs’em?

 Performances are so all-around sensational that it’s hard to know where to start singing praises, but how about beginning with Wilde’s effervescent gender-bending turn as Viola/Cesario, never more beguiling than when trying on a man’s voice and some pat-on-the-back camaraderie for size. Brown’s lovestruck Olivia is a divalicious hoot as well, whether in turbaned Norma Desmond mode or in slinky purple silk, the better to seduce a disconcerted Wilde. Burch and Sorenson have less to do than their female counterparts, but both are delightfully dashing whenever featured. Bohrer is a charmer as the ever bemused Feste, showing off melodious a cappella vocal chops as well. Then there’s the scene-stealing slapstick trio of Beckert (divine as always), Colburn (a dynamo in bowler and pulled-up britches), and Burgos (earning spontaneous bursts of applause for his inspired turn as a martial arts-adept Sir Andrew). Finally, there’s Faulkner’s brilliant comic work as Malvolio, whether practicing what appears to be the gent’s first smile ever, or romping about in skin-tight yellow-and-black checked pants, or doing frequent face-first pratfalls into the sand. (Mention should also be made of the flask that gets passed around throughout 12th Night, offering Burgos and others some impeccably tuned drunk scenes.)

Scenic designer Mason has done a bang-up job of converting his Juliet &her Romeo set to serve its co-production’s needs, and since 12th Night starts with a shipwreck, what better to serve those needs than a sandy beach? Jenny Foldenauer’s costumes are marvels of imagination and flair, Ric Zimmerman’s lighting works its wonders as well, and Kathryn Gallagher’s and Ross’s whimsical original music is a winner as well.

 Elisa K. Blandford is stage manager, Elizabeth Ross dramaturg, and Hilda Kane associate lighting designer.

It’s hard to imagine a better offering for Vanguard Rep’s third season than this summer’s pièce de résistance 12th Night. Adapted with 21st Century tastes in mind and blessed with one gem of a performance after another, this is a 12th Night certain to entertain even the most curmudgeonly of Shakespeare naysayers, and for those with a genuine fondness for the Bard (who don’t mind a bit of trimming here and there and there again), this 12th Night offers a ticket to Shakespeare heaven under the stars.

Byrnes Amphitheater, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, 440 St. Katherine Dr., La Cañada Flintridge.

–Steven Stanley
July 6, 2012

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