Reviewed by Judy Richter
TheatreWorks is serving up Shakespeare with a twist for its annual holiday confection. Artistic director Robert Kelley and his design team have successfully set "Twelfth Night" in San Francisco in the late '60s, proving once again how timeless the Bard is.
Inspired by the Summer of Love, set designer Andrea Bechert has created settings with psychedelically bold colors, starting with a huge sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. According to notes for the production, she drew in particular on the movie version of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and the work of artist Peter Max -- all complemented by Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting. The Beatles also influenced Allison Connor's costume designs. The military jackets from the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" are a case in point. Other celebrities reflected in the costumes are Wavy Gravy, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe McDonald and Janis Joplin. Fresh from his success with TheatreWorks' world premiere of "Emma," composer Paul Gordon has written songs with a '60s flair, abetted by William Liberatore's musical direction and Cliff Caruthers' sound.
All of these visual and aural treats would be mere ornamentation without actors and a director who have an affinity for Shakespeare's text. Fortunately this production certainly has the director, Kelley, who tosses in stage business that echoes the '60s without overdoing anything. The text, plot and theme -- love in a variety of permutations -- remain foremost. The acting, too, is generally first-rate although there are exceptions. Perhaps the most obvious is Michael Gene Sullivan as Duke Orsino, who's dressed like Hendrix. Sullivan is the head writer, director and actor with the Tony-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe and has acted with other Bay Area companies. Nevertheless, his performance is marred by poor diction, starting with the opening "If music be the food of love."
On the other hand, Vilma Silva's Olivia reflects the actor's long association with another Tony winner, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Carie Kawa is strong in the central role of Viola, the shipwrecked young woman who disguises herself as a man, goes into Orsino's service and falls in love with him while fulfilling his orders to take his messages of love to Olivia.
The comic roles are hilariously filled by Warren David Keith as Olivia's roistering uncle, Sir Toby Belch, who adds rolling joints to his repertoire; Darren Bridgett as the ridiculous Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and Shannon Warrick as Maria, Olivia's lady-in-waiting and a co-conspirator with Toby and Andrew. These three are perfect foils to Ron Campbell's rigid, puritanical Malvolio, Olivia's steward. The letter scene, climaxed by Malvolio's attempts to smile, is a masterpiece of comic acting.
Feste, Olivia's fool, is portrayed by the guitar-playing Patrick Alparone, who is part of a band called the Fool. His fellow musicians are Michael Ching, who doubles as the Captain; and Clive Worsley, who also plays Antonio. The band plays most of the songs that are so prevalent in "Twelfth Night." Completing the cast is Rafael Untalan as Sebastian, Viola's twin brother. Richard Lane contributes to the fun with his fight choreography.