Shakespeare’s sour-pickle prig managing the Hotel Del Coronado? The skipper of Navy Base Coronado yearning after the proud lady who owns the hotel? Disguised survivors of a shipwreck that nobody seems to have heard about?
Well why not? The Lamb’s Players suddenly have been in Coronado for 20 years (!) so probably they’ve earned the right to set Twelfth Night there, even if such permission really isn’t needed. (If there’s one thing in the theatre that can be assumed, it’s the resilience of Shakespeare’s plays. They’ll work anywhere.)
Maybe Lamb’s boss Robert Smyth just wanted the chance to play Sir Toby Belch, which he does with feisty brio. Or maybe he realized that he had available Cris O’Bryon, a charming performer equally skilled with the piano and the quip, who could make the merry clown Feste work as a lounge act. Or maybe he wanted to give Jeanne Barnes Reith a chance to sink into some seriously accurate 1949 costumery.
Whatever, the dear old comedy works just as smoothly to celebrate a double decade of achievement as it does to kill a pleasant summer evening.
Rarely have these Shakespeare songs sounded better, in fact, than they do set to music by Jon Lorenz and performed so smoothly, with the discreet doo-wop assistance of supporting actors Jesse Abeel and Jacob Caltrider, by O’Bryon.
Smyth, long recognized as one of the shrewdest casting judges around, may also have realized that he had a pair of actors who could read with uncanny accuracy as twins: Charles Evans Jr. doing the bantam rooster as Sebastian, a rich kid, and Caitie Grady, behind a false pencil moustache identical to his and dressed in boy’s clothing, as Viola, his disguised sister. (Details about this shipwreck, which parted the pair, and the reasons for her cross-dressing, are as scarce as ever. Oh, well.)
Viola having landed a job as Captain Orsino’s, well, cabin boy, gets the job of wooing for her boss the disinterested Olivia, in mourning for the father and brother whose deaths left her sole owner of the Del. Quite soon, all three are yearning for what they can’t have.
Meanwhile, Smyth as Toby Belch is lurching about as Olivia’s poor relation, a hotel guest privileged only to a point. To fuel his debauchery, Sir Toby milks a prime dupe, the clueless Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Shakespeare’s most complete boob (played as slack and weedy by Brian Mackey).
If Aguecheek is Shakespeare’s prize sap, then Malvolio is the champion ass, pompous and vain, “sick,” as his mistress notes, “of self-love.” Brian Rickel is all this with a gloss of Swiss-like fussiness, appropriate for the hotel manager thing. Tricked into making advances to Olivia herself, Rickel’s sickening simper suits the role’s grand tradition.
Christy Yael-Cox, who runs with her husband the Intrepid Shakespeare Company, makes her Lamb’s debut as a poised, elegant Olivia and Jason Maddy finds a deft and acceptable balance as Orsino of the Navy, a concept that could have grown tedious.
Catie Grady’s Viola generates just enough sexual tension with both of them to keep the story flowing. Cynthia Gerber and Carrie Heath provide additional earthy plots and capers as members of the hotel staff.
The Hotel Del itself is represented mainly by red steps, white lattices and a couple of travel posters, designed and lit with casual grace by Mike Buckley as a background for all those perky costumes.
There has been some careful tweaking of the script but nothing of importance is gone. “She never told her love,” “westward, ho,” “laugh yourself into stitches,” “midsummer madness” and all the other hits are still there. And Toby still says, admiringly of the lusty lass he covets: “She’s a beagle, true bred!”