at Hunger Artists Theatre
Were Shakespeare alive during the 1970s, this is the version of Twelfth Night he would have written. With Orsino as a well-hung adult-film industry celeb, Olivia as the bored beauty he covets, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as swingers, and Feste as a rockin', drug-dealing singer, this melancholy comedy comes alive to the music of the disco era. Its performers would look right at home in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Boogie Nights, and there's patent leather, bright prints, and love beads aplenty in Jill Johnson's costume scheme.
Troupe Artistic Director Kelly Flynn dreamed up this reconception as a way to kick off his company's 10th season, and his sense of which actors to use where is acute, meaning he isn't shy about featuring little-used talents such as Andrea Soler and Scott Keister, while Jessica Topliff, normally seen in lead roles, is used in support.
Scott Manuel Johnson shows the towering emotions of his character, painting a proud, lovesick Orsino who despairs that he'll never win over Olivia. Katherine Prenovost's Olivia is blasé, shallow, and vain, undeserving of Orsino's constancy. She prefers the beardless, fresh-faced youth Cesario, who in reality is Viola. Melanie Gable uses Viola's devotion to—and love of—Orsino to win our sympathy, while brother Jeremy Gable is Viola's twin brother Sebastian—apt, effective casting of a role that's primarily a function of the plot.
Mark Coyan's Sir Toby and Keister's Sir Andrew are uncouth, hilariously sleazy disco rats. Soler limns Maria as smoothly cunning. As Malvolio, Jason Lythgoe combines the looks of a 1970s hippie priest with the rigid morality of a Victorian vicar, and his undoing at the hands of Toby, Andrew, and Maria creates some of this staging's most rollicking moments. Terri Mowrey as Feste is a saucy Southern wench, a hardened eccentric given to bursting into song. Mowrey's Feste is the jester in Olivia's household and also this staging's clown supreme. Her earthy vocal renditions of great '70s songs lend soul to a production already laden with heart and sufficient merriment.
Presented by and at Hunger Artists Theatre Company, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Also Mon. 8 p.m. Jan. 30.) Jan. 13-Feb. 12. (714) 680-6803.
Reviewed by Eric Marchese