Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
A Noise Within is at home with “Twelfth Night”
A new theater in any form – as in “a building built to be a theatrical space” rather than a repurposed storefront, warehouse, or basement – is a rare bird in this era, whether or not it can brag of being state of the art. So, it goes without saying that there is much joy in the opening of A Noise Within’s grand new, technically splashy home in Pasadena.In the end, however, the space is only as good as what goes on inside it. This becomes A Noise Within’s task: to provide the same kind of classical theater excellence in this ritzy building that they aimed for when operating on a comparative shoestring. The first shot at this goal comes with their first Pasadena offering: Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” set in pre-Castro Cuba.
The results are mixed. The thing looks terrific, and some of the performances shine. Others are rather more mundane. Still, it does show off to fine effect what this new building can do.
Two elements must be present for a good “Twelfth Night.” First, in telling the central tale of a girl whose romantic complications come from her necessary disguise as a boy, there must be a certain amount of magnetism, both between Viola the woman and Duke Orsino, and between the passionate Olivia and Viola disguised as Cesario. Second, the tale of the pompous servant Malvolio and the humiliating practical joke played upon him by Olivia’s lesser relatives and servants mustn’t devolve into too much pathos.
In this production, one need have no worry about that latter issue. Geoff Elliott makes Malvolio so snippy, moralistic and dour that his downfall seems well earned. Apollo Dukakis’ continuously drunken Sir Toby Belch, Jeremy Rabb’s incessantly whiney Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Deborah Strang’s infuriated maid, Maria, work well as a team and give a sense of righteous payback which makes the humor of this element work as it should.
On the other hand, it takes time for the Viola’s romantic entanglements, welcome or otherwise, to attain any heat. Angela Gulner makes fine work of the man-woman role, becoming a mildly convincing man while never letting the audience forget her true leanings. Abby Craden has a ball with the florid Olivia, making her mercurial enough to account for her swift changes of heart. Roberston Dean’s noble duke takes a while to warm to the stage, at first speaking too softly and then too often upstage. There are missed opportunities for connection along the way, the lack of flair between him and his Cesario offering little to build on.
Even so, the whole thing looks fabulous, from Kurt Boetcher’s minimal set (those palm trees are particularly wonderful in concept and design), to Angela Balogh Calin’s bright, culturally correct, vibrantly period costumes. Everyone on the technical side is having fun playing with the new capacities of this theater.
Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott choreographs the movements upon this stage with confidence, if not pizzazz, using the setting merely as backdrop. In this Cuba one finds great, sensual music to dance to, palms, beaches, and machetes to don in place of swords. And, of course, Cuba is an island (a prerequisite) and its romanticism is a balance to the original Italianate setting. Actual Cuban culture gets a nod mostly through the use of cigars and rum.
In sum, one will find a trip to the new A Noise Within an adventure. The pleasant, and sometimes quite clever “Twelfth Night” bodes well for the company’s future in this new space. With this new venue added to the ones already available, both venerable and otherwise, a theatergoer can get a remarkable education in the medium all in one city.
What: “Twelfth Night” When: Through December 16 in repertory, 8 p.m. selected Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. selected Sundays, with matinees 2 p.m. selected Saturdays and Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $42 – $46 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org