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"Twelfth Night" is undoubtedly Shakespeare's most popular play for modern production. In a career of theatregoing, I have witnessed eight previous stagings. Number nine, currently at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont, is as good as it gets. Not because it features an all-star cast (including Oscar- and Emmy-winner Helen Hunt, whose last film provided the pun for the previous sentence), but because director Nicholas Hytner has a healthy disregard for "classicism" and treats the text as a vital, lively comedy on the ambiguity of sexuality rather than as a stodgy museum piece about switching wigs and codpieces.

Hytner is abetted by the sensuous design elements. Bob Crowley's East Indian, red-toned dreamscape of a set suggests heated passions requiring cooling off in the various onstage pools. Catherine Zuber's harem-hedonistic costumes are revealing and attractive. Natasha Katz's lighting is as romantic as Jeanine Tesori's haunting original score.

Despite an occasional surface sitcom reaction, Hunt acquits herself quite nicely as Viola, the shipwrecked maiden posing as a male page. The forbidden longing for her lord Orsino (a poetically langorous Paul Rudd) and the grief over the mistaken loss of her twin brother, Sebastian (a hunky Rick Stear), are feelingly conveyed. Kyra Sedgwick's Olivia is equally lively, but she pushes it a bit. She falls for the disguised Viola way too fast and too hard, snapping from haughty lady to moontruck adolescent with no transition.

The most successful element of the show is the comic subplot of revelers Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (the unparallaled Brian Murray and Max Wright) tormenting the officious steward Malvolio (the peerless Philip Bosco). This is because they are played as people, not stock figures of fun. Overall, from the star to the smallest role, complete characterizations are given--a rarity in American productions of Shakespeare. David Patrick Kelly, Amy Hill, Skipp Sudduth, and Julio Monge complete the excellent ensemble.

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 66th St. and Broadway, July 16-Aug. 30.

Doug Elkins

Dance Company



Doug Elkins has imported insects and set them loose to run down the spines of his amazing dancers. They bristle with every muscle fiber--head to toe--shivering, wiggling, spastic--all of which makes up the Elkins style. It is original and intriguing in "Patrooka Variations," which headed the program seen recently at The Joyce Theater.

Unfortunately, four pieces of the same "insected" maneuvers dissolve into repetitiveness in spite of a change of music (from Indian to James Brown to "Carmen"), lights, and costumes. The company follows Elkins' process with breathtaking agility. He has rehearsed them well--especially Eddie Bugge, a simply stunning dancer, and Rebecca Chisman, who has a marvelous passive face to go with her body blitherings. The dancers' rippling arm movements could give Makarova's Swan Queen pause for thought. They out-Swan her with the electric current of movement--down one arm, through the fingertips, and up the other like a shock wave.

"Bipolarbear Nos," to an original digital score by Evren Celimli, is an athletic collage with a dark mood throughout. The cumulative effect of the bashing percussive sounds amidst the sameness of Elkins' movement seems excessive and not nearly as pungent in "Patrooka."

Elkins' solo "Roda," to music by Antonio Carlos Jobin worked well beneath an overhead spot that dictated the boundaries in which he must move. He is an endearing performer-- an unpretentious everyman-- with a sincerity that outclasses dancers younger and feistier. He executes his leg thrusts and precarious hand balances with a delightful ƒlan, and his bow is generous and honest.

The program concluded with "Center My Heart," which could use some prudent editing. Again, the unique body pairings and slinky undulations, the spineless backs and the insistant patter of one half toe and one full foot circling the stage--all the dynamics of Elkins' vocabulary of kicking, jabbing, shoving into space, plus break dancing, the martial arts, and a little ballet thrown in as connective tissue--give evidence that Elkins is firmly wrought in a unique style. His dancers, unbowed by the speed and precision see it through, heart attack notwithstanding. Perhaps Elkins might someday elongate his pulsating mode into different textures to bring a respite to a full program of choreography wrapped in millimeter muscle work.

Presented by Doug Elkins Dance Company at The Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave., NYC, June 23-28.AN EVENING WITH




Enjoyable as it is, there's something over-the-hill about "An Evening With Jerry Herman" at the Booth Theatre. Aided by three sparkling talents, the legendary composer/lyricist runs through more than two dozen of the heartfelt, optimistic songs that put smiles of recognition and delight on so many theatregoers' faces. But the evening's nostalgia, with its faint mothball odor, might have difficulty attracting customers to its $65-top seats.

Herman is a tunemeister extraordinaire, whose music can set people humming from the first chords. Selections from "Milk and Honey" (1961) to "La Cage Aux Folles" (1983) are all here, interspersed with autobiographical commentary and played by Herman at the piano, with the versatile Jered Egan on bass.

We get fillips of information and a few anecdotes. What we don't get is an insight into, for instance, why shows succeeded or failed or how Herman tailors songs to particular performers and shows. There's a faint whiff of nightclub or, worse, party entertainment about the evening, despite everyone's good will. And "good will" Herman certainly has, a gleeful, childlike mixture of memory and desire, as each song is performed.

Florence Lacey scores with a moving "If He Walked Into My Life" and a lovely "Ribbons Down My Back." Veteran hoofer Lee Roy Reams reveals a sturdy set of pipes and the wickedest left eyebrow in the business. His imitations of the likes of Mae West and Carol Channing are right on and his "La Cage" numbers are stirring. Reams also directs at a fast clip, finding all sorts of configurations and subtleties to keep the proceedings flowing.

Kenneth Foy's minimal set, Ken Billington's lighting, and Peter Fitzgerald's sound are slick enough to suggest a bigger production than what we actually get. In the end, there's no denying either the show's innocent charm or its somewhat musty air.

Presented by Manny Kladitis and Jon Wilner at the Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., NYC, July 28-Sept. 27.




There are moments when the writing in Martin Outzen's "Wel-come to Chelsea," recently at the Grove Street Playhouse, isn't as graceful as I'd like. Characters occasionally seem more like members of a debating society who've been given the topic "Is it better to be shallow or to have depth?" than friends talking naturally.

But this play has an unusually tender tone which I found very appealing. Its warmth, heart, and openness touched me. I had similarly mixed feelings about Outzen's last play, "My Piece of Heaven," too, but this is a more ambitious, deeply felt, and affecting work. Outzen is growing.

I cared for the fate of Mack, the wounded, romantic protagonist, a gay artist portrayed nicely by playwright Outzen himself. He falls in love at first sight with Richard, a newcomer to Chelsea, played by affable Kelly Corvese. Richard, in turn, succumbs temporarily to the more superficial charms of a self-absorbed, steroid-enhanced stud (enacted with chilling insensitivity to others by Stephen Charles Lincoln). The supporting character Shelly, a heavyset, lonely fellow grateful for the kindness of hustlers, earned the most enthusiastic audience response. He was portrayed with winning verve and unexpected poignance by Richard Guido.

I didn't always buy the action in this play. While I'm certainly a believer in love at first sight, I didn't really believe I was witnessing its occurrence in the scene when I was supposed to. I willingly suspended my disbelief, but I'd rather the writing, acting, and direction (by Joe Ametrano) had compelled me to sense that a bond between soulmates was instantly forming. I liked very much Ametrano's staging of an awkward but enthusiastic ballroom dance. Rob Wolin's single set is functional, with bizarre sculptures by Andrew Fishbein adding perfect touches.

Presented by the Glines with Martin Outzen at the Grove Street Playhouse, 39 Grove Street, NYC. July 8-26.




"F ust: Version 3.0," created and performed by La Fura dels Baus, a Catalon theatre troupe, is the Lincoln Center Festival at its best. Built upon a sequence of compelling images and an electronic soundtrack that counterpoints opera selections with the atonal, the hour-and-45-minute piece is irreverent, innovative, and totally kinesthetic.

Goethe's drama about a jaded scientist who swaps his soul for knowledge meets Stanley Kubrick's classic film "2001" in this updated production that is filtered through the virtual reality of the computer. The 19th-century classic suddenly becomes immediate and personal. The spiritual quest of our time not only has human faces--sometimes in video enlargement behind the performers, confusing both our sense of proportion and the sources of reality--but unfolds in scenes that are all too familiar.

Take the "Buscar" ("Search") segment: Faust (Santi Pons) is boogying for love in all the wrong clubs. Every time he thinks he's found the right woman, (s)he dewigs into a male. Then he meets the diminutive teeny-bopper Margareta (Sara Rosa), a perennial victim, but she bounds off like a spooked Cinderella.

Their reunion is set in front of a screen where huge fiimbing [sic] figures are projected while the Lilliputian actors struggle up a net that stretches from wing to wing-- a sight pun for the Internet. Faust and Margareta, wrapped in a smaller net (of passion), get tangled in each other's limbs. Later, a Prodigy radio ad, currenty aired commercially, advises listeners to get what they need from the Web and then do something with their lives. Yet Faust's highly dramatic rebirth through a plastic amniotic sac and birth tube was more high-tech than human. Irony and sly humor punctuate the unforgettable imagery.

"F ust: Version 3.0" is a drama of deep (inner) space, a mirror of the time and the human predicament. La Fura dels Baus (The Ferret From the Baus Ravine) are Robert Wilson's children--and do their daddy proud.

Presented by Lincoln Center Festival 98 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, 66th Street and B'way, NYC, July 22-26.

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