Shakespeare is sent traveling through time so often that he deserves some sort of cosmic frequent flier miles. His "A Midsummer Night's Dream" might get transferred to colonial India, for instance, while "The Taming of the Shrew" is sent packing for the Wild West.
The writer and his plays usually hold up well, however, and the new settings--more familiar to today's audiences than the ones Shakespeare gave them--open the stories to easier understanding.
A new staging of "Twelfth Night" is so successful in this regard that it gets the audience smiling before the play has even begun. Upon entering the Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood, theatergoers find a mountain hoedown in progress, with lively folk songs spurring some participants to break into foot-stomping dances.
"An Appalachian Twelfth Night," as this Dancing Barefoot production is called, is set in 1938 in Kentucky coal-mining country, where the twangy dialect embraces the text (Appalachian is thought to be a holdover of Scottish-flavored Elizabethan English).
The story of separated twins, each thinking the other dead, finds a comfortable home here. The female twin, Viola (Kelley Birney), disguises herself in a man's cap and work jacket, and finds employment with Duke Orsino (Gerald Hopkins), a mine foreman. Olivia (Susan Brindley), the mourning countess who refuses to hear Orsino's suits of love, is distraught over the deaths of her father and brother in separate mining accidents.
This is a time and place characterized by hard work and perseverance. Then love sweeps in to make life strange and magical.
Olivia, aching for comfort, falls for the sensitive, well-spoken, male-garbed Viola. Viola, meanwhile, is in love with Orsino, who--also thinking her a man--has taken her into his confidence. (Worth the price of admission alone: the mix of embarrassment, panic and choked desire in Birney's face as Viola finds herself talking with Orsino while he takes a bath.)
Also caught in love's snare is Olivia's puritanical steward, Malvolio (Gene Gillette), rendered here as a starchy church deacon. A ruse brings his repressed desire for Olivia to full flame, much to the amusement of those playing the joke on him: the moonshine-loving Sir Toby Belch (Robert L. Williams) and cohorts Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Andrew Elvis Miller), the clown Feste (Sean Galuszka), serving woman Maria (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and fun-loving Fabian (Joel West), all of whom keep running afoul of Malvolio.
Playfully conceived by Williams and touchingly rendered by director Susan Lambert, the staging further benefits from extensive use of old-time folk music, under Rob Kendt's supervision. It's a toe-tapping, laugh-spreading good time.
"An Appalachian Twelfth Night," Globe Playhouse, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 10. $20. (310) 285-5575. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.