KPBS AIRDATE: August 20, 2004
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They appear in literature and in life, in all eras, countries and cultures. One man’s practical joke is another’s humiliation, provocation or pain. So choose your poison: a Shakespearean comedy or a South African tragedy.
“Twelfth Night” is frothy fare, mostly concerned with love and its many guises and mysteries. But there is a dark undertone, the nasty prank played on the prissy steward, Malvolio, by Sir Toby Belch and his cohorts. As with most jokesters, Sir Toby goes too far, not only exacting revenge on Malvolio for criticizing his lusty, wanton ways, but dishonoring and degrading him to excess. In the New Village Arts production, Tim West makes Malvolio’s suffering palpable. But after vowing vengeance, he makes an uncharacteristic appearance in the final upbeat marriage scene, to sing “The Wind and the Rain” with the rest of the cast. An odd choice for director Brendon Fox, who otherwise uses music throughout to excellent effect… with the wise-fool, Feste, delightfully played by Matt Davis, tickling the ivories as well as the funny-bone.
Overall, the cast is stellar, with pratfalling Francis Gercke hilarious as the doltish Sir Andrew Anguecheek, and Julie Jacobs radiant as the shipwrecked Viola and the lovesick Cesario. She is also best at handling the lush, poetic language. The 1920s setting doesn’t add much but lovely costume and music opportunities. But the evening fairly flies by, and it’s free Shakespeare under the stars, just like in New York. Grab a picnic and go; it’s great fun for the whole family.
There’s not much fun in “Saturday Night at the Palace” — unless you get your kicks watching casual cruelty and vicious torment. South African playwright Paul Slabolepszy wrote and set the piece in the early ’80s, a decade before the end of apartheid. The story, played out in real time without an intermission, concerns two young white Afrikaners, stranded with their motorcycle in the middle of the barren veldt somewhere outside Johannesburg. They stop in front of rundown Rocco’s Burger Palace, which is managed by an enterprising black man. And then the bullying begins. Resentments based on race, money, culture, pride, envy and spite conflate and crescendo, with tragic results.
The striking collaboration of the new Ion Theatre and Common Ground Theatre has brought us a brutally intense West coast premiere. Powerfully directed by Claudio Raygoza, the cast is uniformly outstanding — Quardell Scott as the hapless, frightened Zulu; Paul Araujo as a gentle soul who’s pushed too far; and Andrew Kennedy, a gifted newcomer, in a terrifying, heart-stopping performance as malicious, sadistic Vince. Chilling performance in a thrilling but deeply disturbing play. One way or another, tyrants and tough-guys usually lose, but the price is often way too high.
©2004 Patté Productions, Inc.