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Theater Review : 'Twelfth Night' Takes a Ride Into the Wild West

November 19, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — If a director, such as Orange Coast College's Alex Golson,decides to update or conceptualize a Shakespearean play, it's a good idea to have an obvious link between text and concept.

As minor as it is, one of Golson's links in his Gold Rush staging of "Twelfth Night" at the Robert B. Moore Theatre turns out to be very funny.

Remember Festus on "Gunsmoke"? Of course, he has become, in this rumbustious production, Olivia's madcap clown Feste. Matt Nevis, who plays the role with the Festus costume and only a slight hint of Ken Curtis' delivery, also wrote original music for the Shakespearean lyrics, plays and sings them with the proper twang, and sets the tone for the rest of the production. He's a charmer.

Some of the production works. Some of it doesn't.

The 19th-Century California ambience, for one thing, is not consistent throughout. Peter J. Balgoyen's giddy, mini-Colonel Blimp of a Sir Andrew Aguecheek is pure 17th Century in costume and tone, which gives an odd balance with Tony A. Swagler's boisterous mountain man of a Toby Belch, who is swathed in fur snatches and roistering good humor. Even so, they're a very funny Laurel and Hardy act.

Along with Nevis, Swagler and Balgoyen, some of the cast have an easy time paying attention to the Bard's meter while speaking either television Western standard American, which also fits. Bronwen D. Bitetti, when disguised as the male Cesario (for most of the play), really shines--a little brash, with a little swagger and light sense of machismo. As the bright Viola, however, Bitetti is pretty ordinary. Diana Brooks' Olivia is less effective in her delivery, but her general performance as a landed lady of Spanish wealth has fire and a good general shape.

As Orsino, a sort of town boss or range honcho, Damon Warren Hill fills out the basics of the part very well but doesn't add much on top of that. The opposite is true of Troy M. Johnson's starchy Malvolio, a sort of 19th-Century prig with delusions of the grandeur that was the Wilde West. Outside of a tendency to shout most of his lines, Johnson is a notable Malvolio, particularly yellow-stockinged and gartered in a sort of froufrou torero suit.

*

Peggy McBride's volatile and energetic Maria, the bawdy servant to Olivia, who helps disgrace Malvolio, is one of the really solid performances here, along with Steven El Ray Parker's heartfelt Antonio.

The staging suffers most in its supporting roles, with, among others, a rather pale Sebastian by P. J. Agnew, and Michael L. Nottingham's slightly overdone Fabian.

Golson's concept is an amusing one and guided well according to the abilities of his company, and it looks very attractive in David Scaglione's boom-town setting and Brenda Wyatt's vivacious costumes. Dialogue coach Tangie Velie, however, might have woven the accents into a smoother piece of fabric.

* "Twelfth Night," Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Today, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 3 p.m. $7-$9. (714) 432-5932. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Damon Warren Hill: Orsino

Diana Brooks: Olivia

Bronwen D. Bitetti: Viola

Matt Nevis: Feste

Tony A. Swagler: Toby Belch

Peggy McBride: Maria

Peter J. Balgoyen: Sir Andrew Aguecheek

P.J. Agnew: Sebastian

Steven El Ray Parker: Antonio

Troy M. Johnson: Malvolio

Michael L. Nottingham: Fabian

An Orange Coast College Department of Theatre Arts production of Shakespeare's comedy. Directed by Alex Golson. Scenic/property design: David Scaglione. Lighting design: Rick Golson. Costume design: Brenda Wyatt. Dialogue coach: Tangie Velie. Original music: Matt Nevis. Stage manager: Jody J. Marler.

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