Shakespeare’s purest, silliest comedy opens the inaugural season for A Noise Within, in Pasadena’s newest theater complex.
The excellent A Noise Within repertory company has moved to Pasadena from its longtime home in Glendale. This troupe of spirited actors has been in existence for twenty years and they play together that way, finding the fun and pathos in a play that is a frivolous confection of mistaken identity, drunken loutery and unrequited love.
Directed by co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and set in Cuba, the play effectively uses the austere thrust stage in the gorgeous new theater. She begins the play not with the oft-quoted cry of Duke Orsino in Scene 1 (“If music be the food of love, play on…”) but with a machete fight and a mimed depiction of Viola’s shipwreck from Scene 2. This frames Viola’s initial idea, to pass for a boy, as a higher-stakes game, and there is an undercurrent of anxiety as she encounters the Duke (Rob Dean). Viola, played by the excellent Angela Gulner, is as empathetic as she is poetic, and makes us believe the Duke is a sympathetic, rather than silly, figure. She retains her dignity in the midst of nonsense and shenanigans, and her reunion with her brother Sebastian is truly touching.
But we needn’t worry that there is going to be too much drama. Conniving Sir Toby Belch (Apollo Dukakis), ineffectual Sir Andrew Auguecheek (Jeremy Rabb), lusty Maria (Deborah Strang), and the lithe and playful Feste (Anthony Mark Barrow) get things rollicking quickly in the house of the aristocratic Olivia (a wonderful Abby Craden). Her sour steward Malvolio, played by Geoff Elliot, ANW’s co-founder, is ridiculous (and, later, convincingly pathetic) and Olivia’s increasingly outrageous costumes provoke as much laughter as her growing, misplaced infatuation with Viola. The Cuban setting provides the excuse for some great music, a little rumba and a lot of atmosphere, augmented by cigar-smoking revelers and a saucy chorus of stagehands/dancers who sashay on and off stage to a Buena Vista Club beat.
Twelfth Night was originally conceived by Shakespeare to be an end-of-the-year treat, seeing out the Christmas season with hijinks, style and laughter. A Noise Within taps into the same traits to mark a wonderful beginning in a new home.
(in repertory with Desire Under the Elms and Noises Off) through Friday, December 16
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd., East Pasadena