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Don't Give Me Excess Of It

December 6, 2007

I'm all for high concept, contemporized takes on classic plays. But it's a strange thing when a production of a Shakespeare play is "modernized" but somehow feels more dated than if the actors had been strutting across the stage in doublet and hose.

Robert Kelley's production of Twelfth Night which I experienced yesterday evening at Theatre Works' Lucie Stern theatre in Palo Alto transports Shakespeare's story of Viola's adventures in Ilyria to San Francisco circa 1967. As you can imagine, it's a psychadelic funhouse. The stage looks like an octopus' garden with violent colored, childrens' storybooklike blooms, trees and animals. The shipwreck that sets Shakespeare's play in motion becomes an explosion on a love bus. The songs are delivered by a three-piece folk band whose lead singer -- Feste -- is a Dylan-type wandering bard in a patchwork jacket.

The production is fun in some ways, but it's largely superficial and tiring. The hippie San Francisco setting doesn't give us any new insights into the play or our lives. The actors are forced to ham up their parts by peppering the script with comments like "crazy!" and "mellow yellow!" And speaking of yellow, there's so much color on stage throughout the show -- everyone looks so whacky -- that by the time Ron Campbell's sourpuss Malvolio finally shows up in his yellow leggings, the thunder's well and truly been stolen from him. Even a fine actor like Campbell can't create a theatrical coup out of what should be the play's most colorful moment.

What we're left with is a mildly entertaining evening of tie-dye frolics and afros that somehow makes Shakespeare feel quaint and remote. Like the 1960s, he's food for nostalgia.

Still, the production is worth seeing if only for the opportunity to ogle Patrick Alparone's legs. Clad in tight pink denim, this Feste's lower half is a sight to behold. I might have to devote my entire 1,200 column in SF Weekly this week to a discussion of those gorgeous gams.

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