Twelfe Night

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Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through Oct 20.

Twelfe Night opens with spectacle—actors flying down from the ceiling, bubbly video projections, a lurid red-lit backdrop, a tower of driftwood, and a big wooden wave in the middle of the floor. It's overdone, just as it should be.

Shakespeare wrote Twelfe Night just after Julius Caesar and just before Hamlet, and it is the freshest breeze in his canon. The play is sprawling and wild, with half a dozen romances and a pack of fake-outs: crossdressing, a forged love letter, people falling in love with people they shouldn't, and sadistic pranks. (The worst is played on Malvolio—the pompous steward, deliciously overwrought by Frank X—who is fooled into thinking his lady Olivia is in love with him. The end of the contrivance finds him howling in a loony bin.)

Twelfe Night would be a sad play if it were meant to be taken seriously, but this production, directed by David Esbjornson, understands what it's about. It's hard, glassy, and bright, with outsized performances and costumes that seem like hallucinations—capes and gowns you could hide four people inside and a servant (Nick Garrison), dressed like a cross between a Catholic schoolgirl and Marilyn Manson. Esbjornson slows the pace so his actors (a good cast, including Charles Leggett as the drunkard Sir Toby Belch, David Pichette as the world-weary clown Feste, and Mari Nelson as the scheming servant Maria) can wring every lewd joke to its last dirty drops. Esbjornson's choice is generally a good one—directors too often let Shakespeare's jokes fly by, assuming the audience won't get them. But the unvarying slowness can be numbing. A few scenes would improve with editing, or at least a little bump.

During intermission, two older couples met in the lobby for some bad Fakespeare. "Dotheth thy sleepeth in thy chair?" a man asked. "I, too, struggle with the sandman," a woman answered. That they were moved to imitate the wit they'd just watched is good. That the pacing of the production was the butt of their joke is bad. BRENDAN KILEY

To Kill a Mockingbird


Through Nov 10.

The most severe problem with this production of To Kill a Mockingbird is the kids. Scout and Jem deliver their lines in a monotonous shriek, presumably to be heard, but the effect is grating. It's hard to understand what they're saying, impossible to understand what they're feeling. I know, I know: They're just kids, it's really hard to find youngsters who can enunciate, et cetera. But if they're shrieking and indecipherable, they're shrieking and indecipherable. Sorry.

Historically, directors get out of the shrieking-kid problem by using an adult Scout to carry the narration duties. This director, Fracaswell Hyman, gambles on letting the neighbor Maudie Atkinson carry some of the exposition and letting the shrieky kids do the rest. It doesn't work.

Other troubling choices: The set is all kinds of self-consciously crazy, with cartoonishly bent houses and dozens of blood-red chairs, suspended from the ceiling by nooses, which looks neat if you can ignore the clumsy symbolism. Usually capable local actors Peter Crook and Lori Larsen give thin performances—another hint at poor direction. There is also a man who doesn't say anything but wanders around, honking clumsily on a harmonica like he's just found it on the sidewalk. Nobody knows why.

Mayella and Bob Ewell, played by Liz Morton and Russell Hodgkinson, are appropriately pitiable and nauseating. David Bishins is fine as Atticus—even if he siphons his performance off the legacy of Gregory Peck—and his "the one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom" speech is excellent. But by then, we're looking for something to love.

The rest is just remembrance: the rabid dog, the phrase "bust up this chifforobe," Scout's ham costume. But that's not enough to justify the production's existence. BRENDAN KILEY

Lone Star Love

5th Avenue Theatre

Through Sept 30.

Apparently, the world has been clamoring for a remake of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, set in a small Texas town and scored as a cheesy musical. The 5th Avenue thinks so. Academy Award–nominee Randy Quaid thinks so. And New York's Belasco Theatre, where Lone Star Love was scheduled to go after its Seattle run, thought so—until September 24, when it canceled the engagement, without explanation. Whatever the Belasco's reasoning, it was a good choice.

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"Colonel" John Falstaff (Quaid), who has a giant codpiece, a massive body, and an odor described as unappealing but strangely entrancing, arrives in Windsor, Texas. Hilarity allegedly ensues. Bored wives are charmed too easily and avenged too poorly. Insipid songs, that don't drive the story anywhere, are sung. Presumably, something climactic happens after intermission; my companion and I left.

How this musical made it out of Houston—where an early version was performed in 1988 at the Alley Theater—is difficult to imagine. If Texas audiences had any sense (or pride), they would have dragged the show out behind the barn and shot it. Yet, somehow, Lone Star Love has persisted for almost 20 years, knocking around in Ohio, becoming the subject of a public-television documentary in 1992, premiering off Broadway in 2004, and now this. Apparently bad farce repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as tragedy, third as tragedy, and so on. ELI SANDERS