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THEATER REVIEW : 'TWELFTH NIGHT' : Not Half Bard : Cal Lutheran University's production successfully captures Shakespeare's sense of humor.

May 10, 1990|TODD EVERETT

There's a reason that William Shakespeare's plays are being performed, constantly, nearly 400 years after they were written: The material continues to work.

The production of "Twelfth Night," presented through this weekend at Cal Lutheran University, is a case in point, demonstrating that spunk and imagination can compensate for a lack of other resources. With a minimal set and practically no props, the show's a sheer joy.

In fact, the lack of distracting accouterments--and a deeply thrust stage that puts the action in the middle of the audience--might even help spectators focus on Shakespeare's words and rhythms.

Director Michael J. Arndt, who is also chairman of Cal Lutheran's Drama Department, has an appreciative ear for comedy so low, it makes some of the Three Stooges films look like "Hamlet."

The play's a boiling stewpot of intentional and unintentional mistaken identities, role reversals and sexual confusion. At least five major characters are buffoons, and the purported male lead is a dull-witted narcissist. Nobody dies or is even seriously injured. And even a couple cases of heartbreak are cleared up to the victims' satisfaction by the final curtain.

If it weren't so funny, "Twelfth Night" could be taken as a feminist tract. The protagonist of this rough-and-tumble farce is Viola, a feisty young woman who's more than able to hold her own in male company. In fact, virtually any female character in the show is brighter than any male--with the possible exception of Sir Toby Belch, whose intelligence is drowned by constant drunkenness and a tendency to practical joking.

In the hands of K. Jill Sorgen, Viola all but steals every scene she appears in, even though her disguise as a young man wouldn't fool anybody but the characters in this play. (A cap and different boots would help, though it's possible that Arndt is trying to make things easier for the audience to follow).

Sorgen's portrayal is so witty and self-sufficient, in fact, that one might wonder why her Viola is attracted to Justin Lorber's rather thick Orsinio. Perhaps good looks, wealth and a title were enough in those days.

Karen Stark and Ace VanWanseele play Olivia, who falls in love with Viola's male alter-ego, and Sebastian, Viola's twin brother.

The rotund and witty Sir Toby Belch and his foil, gaunt, coward Sir Andrew Aguecheek, are played for maximum laughs by Kevin P. Kern and Loren Geeting, and dour Malvolio--the butt of many jokes--by Rob O'Neill. Justine Skeeles is properly lusty as Belch's partner-in-prank and the object of his affection.

Kelly Foran and Chris Bloom play a couple of clowns; Foran as a traditional court jester, and Bloom as an appealing cross between Chico and Harpo Marx.

While the set design by Richard Swartz's is minimalist, the show's elaborate costumes, designed by Lolita Ball and Laura Backus, show imagination and skill, and Michael Roehr's lighting and the sound design of Matt Burgess and Patrick Benson add considerably to the overall effect.

"Twelfth Night" continues tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., and concludes with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $5. For reservations, call the box office at 493-3410. Cal Lutheran University's Little Theater is on campus, at 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks.

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