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September, 2002

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night In Stinson
Reviewed by Jeff Smith

Shakespeare at Stinson is capping its tenth successful season with the hilarious comedy TWELFTH NIGHT.

Snugly sandwiched between the Easkoot riparian refuge and noise sensitive burghers, Shakespeare at Stinson continues to enjoy critically acclaimed artistic, if not commercial, success, thanks to the juggling acts and ventriloquism dauntlessly performed by its mercurial artistic director: Jeffrey Trotter.

Now that the stage has been repositioned to keep bawdy Elizabethan English from scaling Mount Tamalpais, the performing arts compound is even more spectacular: flowers throughout the theater and an ascending sylvan expanse serving as a backdrop for the stage. The setting sun, ricocheting off the Pacific, effuses the stage with warm colors regardless of the actual ambient temperature.

Conspicuous strengths in this production include Alexandra Matthew, as Viola and Cesario; Stephen Klum as Feste the foolâ "Shakespeare always makes his fools work the hardest linguisticallyâ" and Isabel Ortega as the lithe, passionate, hot blooded Olivia. Robert Lundy-Paine (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) and Robert Cooper (Sir Toby Belch) are the comic team who pack rib-cracking laughter into this most enjoyable romantic comedy.

Rick Orten Blad throws creative sparks with an existential set design reminiscent of WAITING FOR GODOT and Salvador Dali. And wisely so: the audience's imagination is fired by a set that is more three dimensional art, rather than mere setting. Besides, the play is set in the fictitious Illyria, so who is the wiser?

As presented at Stinson, the play is nearly a variety show. Live guitar, piano and saxophone accompany some startlingly good vocals by Stephen Klum. Dancing is delicately choreographed by Stinson veteran Mary Beth Cavanaugh. Swashbuckling and even a bit of Roller Derby are tossed in to give the show a festive cabaret flavor.

As is always the case with Shakespeare's comedy, "it works at so many levels." Most importantly, it is audience friendly. Opening night was over-run with the alumni associations of both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and where was Stanford? Yet the laughter was equally distributed between adults and children. While adults discussed subtlety and nuance during intermission, the under eighteen crowd recapped the high jinks of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Malvolio.

As Janis Hashe wrote in the August issue of "Bay Area Parent" magazine, "There's a clear consensus among all of the teachers . . . It is not kids who are intimidated by Shakespeare, it is parents . . . Parents often underestimate the types of material their kids can handle . . . Former students come up to me all the time and say, "I am so glad I was introduced (to Shakespeare) at the age I was' . . . It is not an overstatement to say it has affected their lives." Family friendly prices are a popular hallmark of the Stinson shows.

The play continues until the end of September. Given the size of the crowds, the number of radiant heaters, and the approach of the autumnal equinox, warm clothing, blankets and a hearty red wine would seem appropriate. The first four thousand patrons are awarded free parking in the state park. For tickets to perhaps the best play of the season call Jeffrey in the box office at 415 868-1115.

 

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