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Laughs Lift Clunky 'Twelfth Night'

September 04, 1998|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

"Twelfth Night" is one of Shakespeare's most lovable romps, a lighthearted tale of unrequited passion, confused identities, buffoonery--even a damsel in drag.

Jack Stehlin's uneven direction at the Hudson Guild is mitigated by some inspired clowning--by Stehlin as the drunken Sir Toby Belch, by the hilariously fey Robert Cicchini as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and by Daniel Nathan Spector as the guitar-strumming Feste, a fool nonpareil. Too often, though, we see the wheels cranking behind this belabored production.

Kitty Rose's garishly modern costumes are fun, but Dennis Jackson's lighting leaves some actors in the dark, particularly in certain group scenes. J. Gregor Veneklasen's minimalistic set design is overly frugal.

Kimberly Karen Johnson is elegantly measured as Viola, the shipwrecked maiden who dons male attire to serve in the court of the noble Orsino (Stephen Mora), the man she loves. Jeannine Welles' Olivia, the reluctant object of Orsino's adoration, is a game and spunky siren. Roald A. Martinsen simpers amusingly as Malvolio, Olivia's grandiose fool of a steward. The biggest problem is an uneven cast, a shortcoming Stehlin tries to hide by revving up the overall pace of his staging--an energetic failure.

* "Twelfth Night," Hudson Theatre, 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 3. $15. (323) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

'Life' Doesn't Show Much of a Pulse

"Later Life," now at the Long Beach Playhouse's Studio Theatre, is not one of A.R. Gurney's stronger plays. In fact, under the faltering ministrations of director Randy Bowden and a lackluster cast, it's downright weak-kneed.

Sally (Susan E. Taylor), who is throwing a bash at her posh condominium overlooking Boston Harbor, introduces the recently divorced Austin (James Covert) to the recently separated Ruth (Danielle Desmond).

It's a reunion of sorts. Austin and Ruth actually enjoyed a brief flirtation years ago in Naples. Now, despite constant interruptions by eccentric party-goers, Austin and Ruth take another stab at romance. But Austin, a repressed WASP (what else?), ultimately lets love pass him by rather than violate his own hidebound sense of decorum.

Roger Smart's handsome set nicely frames the action, and Russ Clelland's lighting design shows us the full glory of an ocean-side sunset. However, Gurney's parade of party-goers is sophomorically broad, and the downbeat resolution strains at the seams. Gurney's core concept--that inaction, in the name of propriety, is more deadly than a lifetime of blundering--could have been provocative, but does not survive the play's basic atonality or the general ineptitude of this production.

* "Later Life," Studio Theatre at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; this Sunday and Sept. 13, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 3. $12-$15. (562) 494-1616. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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