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'Family Twelfth Night' Gives Bard a Buzz Cut

November 23, 2000|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shakespeare is an enjoyable family affair at Interact Theatre in North Hollywood, thanks to Parson's Nose Productions, a new adult professional company that has kicked off its self-described "broad strokes" approach to the classics with "A Family Twelfth Night" romp for adults and children ages 8 and up.

Adapted by the company's artistic director, Lance Davis, who also does a witty turn as Olivia's ludicrously self-important, strutting suitor, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, this hour-plus version omits chunks of dialogue and the darker shadows in Shakespeare's gender-bending romance.

Instead, Davis and company hit the high points: Shipwrecked Viola (Debra Henri), in male disguise, joins Duke Orsino's court as his page, Cesario; she falls for the Duke (J. Downing), who is pining for Olivia (Jane Fleiss), who in turn pines for the supposed Cesario.

Meanwhile, Olivia's sponging, drunkard uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Joel McKinnon Miller), the feather-witted Sir Andrew and Olivia's maid (Mary Chalon) amuse themselves by playing an elaborate joke to humble Olivia's pompous steward, Malvolio (Ivar Brogger).

The arrival of Viola's twin brother, Sebastian (David Drew Gallagher), rescued by sea captain Antonio (James Brandon), leads to the happy ending where true love wins out. And observing the proceedings with a knowing eye is clown and troubadour Feste (Fred Sanders).

Though skating along the surface of the play, the adept cast keeps interest sharp. Brogger's cadaverous Malvolio, Downing's suave Orsino, Davis' banty roosterish Sir Andrew and Henri's strong Viola are particularly winning.

Davis' mix of period and contemporary touches, however, works better in some instances than others. The songs that punctuate the plot--"Once Upon a Dream," "Bella Noche" and "Hakuna Matata," for instance--are the weakest part of the production. They don't wear well, and the ubiquitous Disney tune is unnecessarily ham-handed.

On the other hand, Olivia's long-skirted black power-suit and business-like eyeglasses; Sir Toby's buzz cut, rumpled tux and can of Budweiser; the Duke's Noel Cowardian silk smoking jacket and ascot; and Antonio's comical Long John Silver-styled pirate accents enhance the fun.

All told, it's a promising start for a company dedicated to whetting young audiences' appetite for live theater.

* "A Family Twelfth Night," Interact Theatre, 5215 Bakman Ave., North Hollywood, Saturdays, 11 a.m., through Jan. 13. $10. (818) 773-7862. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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