at the Pasadena Playhouse
Alison Carey's free adaptation of Shakespeare's gender-bending comedy, presented by the Cornerstone Theater Company, is admittedly fractured Shakespeare, with lots of nods to the local Pasadena audience, along with one-liners slamming everyone from Hollywood producers to Dick Cheney. With its loud and clear message on marital rights, the play might be better titled "Brokeback Bard."
In Carey's version, the mayor of Pasadena and his brother, the ex-mayor, are engaged in an extended family feud; the Rose Bowl has been turned into a NASCAR race track; and TV producers, bikers, fry cooks, and park rangers are frolicking in the Mojave Desert. The script itself, which is a jumbled mélange of Shakespeare's text, current political and cultural jokes, and a variety of linguistic riffs from red-state redneck to hip-hop cool, is often jarring though occasionally quite funny. While some of the jokes are definitely groaners, the talented cast doesn't hold back, which makes for an entertaining, if uneven, show.
Lifting the play beyond mere silliness is the wonderful portrayal of Rosalind by Christopher Liam Moore, who does a double backflip on the usual casting of the piece, so here is a male portraying a woman disguised as a man—as was of course the case in Shakespeare's day. Moore is exquisite and precise as the "female" Rosalind in the early scenes but brings a more masculine tone to his portrayal of the disguised Rosalind later in the play. This naturally suggests homosexual love, which indeed bursts out in the final scenes of the play.
Leith Burke is steadfast and devoted as Orlando, and Jonathan Del Arco is wonderful as the comic Touchstone. Kate Mulligan has several delightful turns as a racecar driver, an aide to the ex-mayor, an Internet wedding officiant, and a lovesick park ranger. Dorothy James, Page Leong, Gerald Hiken, Scott Rodarte, Christian Barillas, Benajah Cobb, Peter Howard, Lisa Tharps, and Bahni Turpin are talented members of the ensemble. Director Bill Rauch's snappy staging keeps the pace thankfully breezy and silly.
Presented by Cornerstone Theater Company in association with and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 5 & 9 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Mar. 17-Apr. 16. (626) 356-7529. www.cornerstonetheater.org.
Reviewed by Hoyt Hilsman