Summer just wouldn't be summer without Shakespeare under the sky at the Botanicum. The calendar says it's fall, but the sun isn't listening, and there's still enough warm weather left to enjoy one of the Bard's most popular comedies in this rustic Topanga canyon setting that lends itself so well to such fare.
Susan Angelo directs a mostly serviceable production of this familiar tale of mistaken identities, mischievousness, and merriment, but she still manages to come up with a surprise or two. Her brightest move was in casting little person Mark Povinelli as the sly-tongued fool, Feste, which adds obvious visual humor to such moments as when Feste disguises himself as a cleric and remarks, "I am not tall enough to become the function." Povinelli has an innate charm and appeal that have nothing to do with his physical stature, and it is that—plus his strong clear voice and confident, witty manner—that makes him an immediate audience favorite.
Justin Doran also strikes many a funny bone as the very fey Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Pale-complected with painted lips, with limp hair (and wrist), Doran prances hilariously about in raspberry tights and a mauve costume bedecked with bows. He takes the broadness of the character to just the right point—far enough to be funny and not so far as to be distasteful—and it's a treat every time he's onstage.
Not going far enough, however, is Megan Geer-Alsop in the key gender-bender role of Viola, a young girl washed ashore after a terrible storm who disguises herself as a man, Cesario, in order to work in service to Orsino (Abner Genece), Duke of Illyria. There is little male/female contrast in Geer-Alsop's characterizations; she seems to rely on costuming and hairstyle to convey the differences, offering little in the way of mannerisms or physicality to suggest any gender variations. And way off the mark was Jennifer Wydra, stepping in for Abby Craden, as the melancholy Olivia, of whom Orsino is enamored. Again costuming becomes the only cue to personality, and lack of contrast weakens a performance. Were it not for the black dress (OK, that and the text), we'd not know that the oddly cheery Olivia was in mourning in the first part of the play. This seems a strange misstep, indeed, for a show built around a variety of character double-images, be those images physical (Viola and Sebastian [Mike Peebler], her twin brother), emotional (sad-then-happy Olivia and her grim-faced steward, Malvolio [Milan Dragicevich], who becomes the crazed victim of a practical joke), or gender-based (Viola/Cesario).
Twelfth Night, rather like New Year's, refers to a festive time when people in Elizabethan England began to leave the past behind and started looking ahead to new beginnings, making it a perfect show with which to end the theatrical season and let summer fade into fall.
"Twelfth Night," presented by and at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Sat. 3 p.m. Oct. 6-20. $11-20. (310) 455-3723.