Free Shakespeare in the Park

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
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Mia Tagano as Olivia and Stephen Klum (who played Boyet in 2003's Love's Labour's Lost) as Feste in Twelfth Night.

Mon, Jul. 19, 2004

Magritte Magic Spices Up 'Night'

Depending on your cultural frame of reference, the opening of S.F. Shakespeare Festival's "Twelfth Night" feels either like you've strolled into a Rene Magritte painting, or the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair."

In both of those, and this year's free Shakespeare in the Park production, the Magritte touch (the painter is known for his surreal images of mysterious, formally dressed men wearing bowler hats) is all over the stage. "Twelfth Night," currently running in Pleasanton's Amador Valley Community Park, plays in front of a sky blue wall, painted with fluffy clouds. And at the start, a group of men dressed in formal suits and derby hats come on stage and begin playing music for the start of the show.

It's a delightful image that makes a stunning first impression. In fact, the entire production is filled with these memorable scenes, cleverly created by director Kenneth Kelleher.

As yet, however, the scenes have yet to gel into a cohesive whole, so the play drifts from captivating, to confusing, to lackluster, then back to captivating. There's something there, all right, but it has yet to present itself in a unified fashion.

This could have something to do with the different performance levels of the cast, or to the newness of the production, which opened a week ago and will play around the Bay through late September.

The Magritte setting serves as a surreal base for "Twelfth Night," another one of Shakespeare's comic ventures into the world of gender-bending and mistaken identity.

It all begins when Viola (Alexandra Matthew) lands on the shore of Illyria. She and her twin brother Sebastian (Michael Craig Storm) have been in a shipwreck. Sebastian remains lost, and as Viola makes her way into the new land, she decides she would do better if she disguised herself as a boy.

She calls herself Cesario, and becomes a member of Duke Orsinio's home, where one of her duties is to visit the lovely Olivia (Mia Tangano). Cesario is to tell Olivia of her master's love, but ends up being Olivia's idea of a perfect boy toy.

Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Julian Lopez-Morillas) and his drinking pal, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Alex Moggridge) decide to confuse matters more by forging a letter to her straight-laced steward, Malvolio (Jack Powell) hinting she is in love with him.

And so it goes in a spiral of mistaken identity and romance, spinning wildly across Illyria until happily ever after.

The show is a tremendous amount of fun, and perfect for outdoor summer entertainment. Right now, Lopez-Morillas and Moggridge steal the show with their comic performances. Powell, too, hits the high points, as do Matthew and Tagano.

The play has had a decidedly shaky start, but it should ripen from here, and become a solidly delightful show as summer rolls along.

Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. Reach him at 925-945-4736 or

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