“Twelfth Dog Night” and “Eden”
One knows a stage performance is funny when even those notoriously jaded beings known as “the band” are laughing. One also knows it’s fit for kids when those notoriously fidgety little beings are paying attention.
Troubadour Theater Company’s “Twelfth Dog Night” is the latest in what appears to be that troupe’s “We Spit Shakespeare Better Than Anyone” series. This one combines Troubadour’s clowning with the music of the ’70s band Three Dog Night.
And Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” of course. That’s the one in which the twin brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola, are separated by shipwreck. He merely travels around town waiting to meet up with his sister. She, however, gets to dress in men’s clothing and become an attendant to Duke Orsino, who wonders why he is attracted to what appears to be a man. Meanwhile, the duke’s beloved, Olivia, takes a shine to Viola. And so forth.
The songs? Replacing Shakespeare’s ditties are “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Black and White” (for a letter-writing scene) “One” (for Malvolio’s imprisonment), “Never Been to Spain” (in this case, “Santa Monica,” as Sebastian and his traveling companion, Antonio, tour the sea-coast town) and the buoyant finale, “Joy to the World.”
There are no mistakes in this production. If anything is noticeably awry, director Matt Walker, who also appears as Feste the Clown, will leap from backstage, blowing his whistle and calling a foul on the offending performer, technician or band member, charging a penalty and restarting the scene.
Walker is a one-man, three-ring circus, offering pratfalls, hat tricks and improvised dialogue, gladly and generously leaving the last laugh to a fellow improviser.
As the twins, Michelle Johnson and Kent Davis are ill-matched physically, to hilarious effect, but evenly matched in comedic and vocal talent.
At her every entrance, Carissa Barnett livens up the stage as a gleeful Maria, wearing an ill-concealed fat suit that occasionally “rides up” and must be put right by a fellow actor.
Rachel Wolfe takes the petulant Olivia on a vibrant, rubber-faced run. Rick Batala lingers a bit too long on Malvolio’s monologues but compensates by playing “evil” with exactitude.
The other talents include Michael Sulprizio (Sir Toby Belch), Beth Kennedy (Antonio, on stilts throughout the performance), Briant Wells (Orsino), Timothy Groff (Sir Andrew), Michael Teele (Fabian), and Guillermo Robles, Jesse Mackey and Travis Clark as various “officers.”
The band includes Henry Phillips, Dave Barker, Kevin Robertson and Lisa Valenzuela.
If fault can be found with the production, it is that it may be too funny. The bits come too quickly to be fully absorbed — the sight gags overlap the improvised asides, which are spouted while actors are tumbling heels over heads.
For example, the troupe has included its traditional “funny walks” gag. Behind a waist-high barrier, Walker, Davis and Teele mime walking up stairs, taking escalators, floating in space, etc. While Davis takes a merry-go-round ride that is funny enough even without the plastic yellow piping meant to be his horse, we hear Barker on synthesizer playing the waltz from “Carousel.”
If laughter be the food of comedy, play on.
“Twelfth Dog Night” plays through Aug. 28, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Miles Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln (N. of Wilshire), Santa Monica. Tel. 213.303.0096.
By Dany Margolies
Jennifer Maisel is a playwright who trusts her audience. In “Eden” at Theatre of Note, nothing is obvious, nothing is settled, nothing is told in prosaic expository form.
But her stories are human and eternal, with archetypal characters living in mundane circumstances.
The dramatis personae of Eden include the mother, daughter, bride-to-be, groom-to-be, best friend, as-yet-unknown lover and what seems to be a guardian angel. Any further information is delivered using stylized, quick glimpses that ignore traditional timelines.
The mother-daughter relationship highlights that which is traditionally said and that which should be said. The mother can’t resist ignoring her daughter’s wishes and buying her a dress, and the daughter can’t resist telling her mother she doesn’t need it. The mother also admonishes her, “Your generation, you make nothing easy. You have no appreciation of what I can do for you.”
The characters occupy a dark world. There are broad hints of AIDS, Nazi Holocaust survival, suicide attempts and long-held fears of abandonment. There are also small bits of hope: The bride may return to her faith, the daughter may find the fight still in her. The “divine spirit” always tells the “truth” but truth is relative. In the last moments, the characters are very kind to one another.
The production, directed by Dan Oliverio, is also darkly lit, probably to match the mood of the piece but also because the theater’s seats are in facing rows with much of the action taking place in the middle of the room.
Pamela Gordon is the mother, sincere, pained and mesmerizing.
David Conner as the agent of the divine is appealingly warm and comforting. Lisa Ann Morrison is the daughter, living without hope but seemingly strong enough to survive anything. Mika Walden is wonderfully free and frank as the best friend.
Alina Phelan, Jonathan Klein, Michelle Welk and Christopher DeWan round out the cast.
Eden is the name of a New York underground club that moves from night to night. Paradise can be elusive.
“Eden” appears Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 4 at Theatre of Note, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd. (just north of Sunset), Hollywood. Tel. 323.856.8611.