by Terrance Mc Arthur
It’s summertime in Fresno, and that means Shakespeare in the Park. The Woodward Shakespeare Festival is back for its thirteenth season of free Shakespeare performances, but don’t get superstitious. WSF opens with a lively, modern-dress version of Twelfth Night on the Festival Stage that deserves to be seen.
The basics: Girl dresses as a guy who looks a lot like her twin brother. She falls for her boss, who sends her to woo the girl who won’t have anything to do with him, who falls for the girl in guy’s clothing. If that sounds kind-of familiar, you may have seen the movie She’s the Man with Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum…or you saw the WSF production in 2008.
Renee Newlove has been bouncing around WSF for a long time. She usually plays male characters (or parts that were written as male). She played Feste the clown/fool in the ‘08 production. This year, she wanted to play a woman. She got her wish—sort-of. As Viola, the maid-in-dude’s-clothing, Newlove shines, sometimes demure, sometimes rollicking, sometimes winningly goofy/awkward, possessed of a wide variety of expressions and wicked comedic timing.
Russell Noland (of the band Songs 4 Pints) has played a number of background characters for WSF. Finally, he gets to step to the forefront as Duke Orsino, Viola’s boss who doesn’t recognize a woman in male disguise when he sees one. He’s wistful, yet hearty, plays a gentle guitar and wields a wicked remote control, symbolizing the wide mood swings of the play.
Joshua Taber is Feste (and any other parts that aren’t covered by the rest of the cast of ten), a patchwork-clad mocker of the seriousness of other characters. His attitude is tinged with a Jim Carrey-ish aloofness.
Kristel Kranz as Lady Olivia blossoms from a sister in mourning who has no room for love in her heart to a giddy, brightly-clothed woman in love…with the wrong person. Director Jacob Sherwood (recently Dick Deadeye in the 2nd Space H. M. S. Pinafore) soft-pedals the modern gender focus (A woman in man’s clothing doesn’t have the shock value it carried 400 years ago.) and celebrates love and falling into it.
Another veteran of the Pinafore, James Schott gets fussy and wet-blankety as Malvolio, the head servant with delusions of grandeur, who gets punk’d by the rest of Lady Olivia’s household: Maria (Sarah Sherwood), Sir Toby (Casey Ballard), and Sir Andrew (Jonathan Gledhill).
Maria is sassy, devious, and a pretty good forger, and Sarah mines the character for all the diamonds it holds, including a very quick exit. Ballard played Viola in WSF’s earlier version, but she dresses as a down-at-heels, oft-drunken, hip-hop wannabe as Toby, a relative of Olivia’s; Casey is far from male, but Toby comes across as a guy among guys. Gledhill is tall and a few crayons short of a box as a yuppie twit trying to impress Olivia.
Arreguin is bemused as the twin brother, Sebastian, who shows up in town, finding himself pursued by Olivia; she resembles Max Casella, who played Doogie Howser, MD’s buddy. Kenia Morales plays a lady pirate who risks her life to help Sebastian.
Costumer Celeste Johnson finds contemporary attire that fits the cast, the style, and the fun. Go, Celeste!
Twelfth Night plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through July 8, with the action beginning at 8 p.m. The show is free (Donations are gleefully accepted and seriously sought.). Cars entering Woodward Park are charged $5, so some people park across Friant Rd. and take a walk to the stage area. More info can be found on their website.
[By the way, the intermission snacks include ooey-gooey brownies that are sinful, but not illegal. If nothing else, go for the brownies, and be swept away by a Shakespeare production that lightens the heart.]
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