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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Chalk Rep is beginning its second season, and — in addition to venturing out to living rooms, backyards and the like &mdash the company is looking to become the resident company at Hollywood Forever's Masonic lodge. (Laura Hitchcock had praise for the company's 2008 inaugural production at the venue: Chekhov's Three Sisters).
Twelfth Night can be and often has been staged with a melancholy flavor. That's not really what's going on in Jerry Ruiz's production. In fact, apart from placing the performers in largely in modern dress, the use of a three piece indy rock band (Tahkus Ekedal, Ian Patrick and Justin Schiada) and saddling his actors with some distinctive and unfortunate eye makeup, Ruiz's production seems largely without vision. Nothing inept, just nothing much exciting.
We get that Owiso Odero's quite chipper Orsino likes the guy-guy banter (accompanied by the occasional rump slap) with his favored page Cesario (a male drag-ed up Viola, played by Hilary Ward), and that he finds threatening any growing sense of homoerotic attraction. This Orsino's hipsterism doesn't seem to be veiling any great loneliness; his wooing of Olivia via Cesario feels like it's done out of boredom. With Odero needing a few scenes to settle into the role of lovelorn Duke, his attraction to Ward's Viola doesn't make a lot of sense.
We also get that Olivia's Fool Feste (Guilford Adams) seems hugely pissed off at Illyria at large; that he takes particular umbrage at, of all people, Fabian for reading Malvolio's fifth act plea to Olivia. And maybe it's a sour mood thing or a deliberate choice by musical director Mike Shapiro, but there's not a single harmonious thing about Adams's singing here.
The revels/scheming of Feste, Sir Toby Belch (Matt Gaydos), Maria (Tess Lina) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Corey Brill) carry their customary comic sizzle. Lanky, badly dressed and with a really bad haircut, Brill's spindly Aguecheek is a sight for sore eyes (and as red as they are, his eyes do indeed look sore). Brill's Toby is clearly a man of drink not of great appetite, and Erica Rice has costumed him to suggest Miami Vice gone to seed. Feste hits on Maria in their first scene together which isn't so odd since, in this production, everyone hits on Maria.
Twelfth Night's other practically un-killable scene is the gulling of Malvolio who discovers a letter allegedly written by Olivia ("Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. . .") and proceeds to puff out his ego a few notches while charting his career rise. Janasz, a veteran Bard performer and a company member of San Diego's Old Globe, quivers with indignation, righteousness or delight as the occasion calls for. Malvolio may be a boob, but he's an over-punished boob, and Janasz lets us feel for the man. Janasz is a victim to one of Cane's peculiar costume choices. Would a somber puritan, pre transformation, elect to wear lilac stockings under his black?
Scenic designer Tom Ontiveros has set the action largely in three quarter round with a few pieces of furniture. The Masonic lodge, with its hardwood floors and open drawing room feel, is an attractive venue and should house plenty of interesting performances. This Twelfth Night, while not strictly for the dead, is nonetheless a misfire.