November 28, 2003





'Twelfth Night' balancing act


Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" is like a three-seated seesaw, and the fat man usually wins. That is to say, it's a trick to balance the play's central love triangle with the two prankish subplots driven by that minor-league Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch. Many productions slight the mistaken romance and let the drunken knight walk away with chunks of scenery in his teeth.


Director Anne McNaughton's new production doesn't quite have that problem--in part because her Toby, Tony Burton, is more a cuddly, red-faced chucklehead than a wild party animal, but mostly because it's hard to steal a show that's barely there. The design has a generic sheen, with Esther Blodgett's colorful costumes striking a familiar note between faux-Moorish and Renaissance Faire and J. Kent Inasy's imposingly stagey set lighted evenly by Luke Moyer.


With few exceptions, the cast is playing at Shakespeare, not committing to characters. They speak the speeches relatively painlessly, and mostly with understanding, but only Meeghan Holaway as love struck noblewoman Olivia appears to have smoldering depths beneath her glittering surface.


None of the other actors--and certainly not Maria Kress' blandly smiling Viola--give her flint to spark off. The superficial approach ends up serving Philip McKeown's starchy Malvolio well; in the context of this dully dutiful production, McKeown's dogged attachment to the obvious at least gets him his laughs. Other performers score some light, grazing comic blows, from Burton's elfin Toby to Khamara Pettus' sinuous Feste. But the Bard's topsy-turvy carnival of confused lust and humiliation has seldom looked so sane and polite.

Rob Kendt


"Twelfth Night," The Company Rep, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 21. $20-22.50. (323) 960-4412. 2 hours, 25 minutes.