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Brelby Theatre Company's Twelfth Night Is Frisky Fun

Derek Neumann very sensibly macks on Allison Bell, in Twelfth Night.
Derek Neumann very sensibly macks on Allison Bell, in Twelfth Night.
Devin Hanson Photography

Shakespeare's canon contains a fair number of shipwrecks, something I hadn't really thought about before a big old wind- and thunderstorm pursued Brelby Theatre Company's Saturday night performance of Twelfth Night, a comedy that begins with wreck survivors cast on shore.

The show, originally scheduled for an outdoor patio due to construction delays in the company's new space, was moved with dispatch into the lobby of the Gas Light Inn, a B&B and entertainment venue full of historic downtown Glendale cuteness and, more to our purposes, attached to Olde Towne Glendale Wine and Beer Bar.

In this play and Pericles, Prince of Tyre (and perhaps some other ones), the actual storm and wreck are not part of the script. Some theaters put them in anyway, to make it more interesting. Brelby has a nicely choreographed scene of mayhem, with long swaths of fabric representing the waves that tear Viola away from her twin brother Sebastian and cast her onto the shore of Illyria.

This production has a few other stylized fights and scenes, as well, and they kind of stick out like production numbers. That might be intentional, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's also hard to tell quite how we're supposed to take it when the show isn't being performed in the intended space. With the playing area, distances, entrances, and timing as they're supposed to be, it likely feels more seamless.

One of the fun things about this Twelfth Night is how very physical it is. It's difficult for the semi-straight characters to live up to the rowdy clowns, but most of the actors can handle taking their characters' own issues seriously while letting the audience see how ridiculous and shallow they are. Brelby co-founder Brian Maticic, who plays Orsino, does seem to be marooned on the boring, stuffy side for so long that when Orsino threatened to kill somebody, I almost wanted him to, because he was finally excited about something.

 

However, Mr. Maticic, along with most of the cast, has a good tongue for the heavy lifting of Shakespearean verse. Though what remain of the long speeches still tend to deteriorate into word stir-fry by the end, the actors' brains and bodies are engaged enough, and they've worked hard enough, that most of the action is easy to follow.

Kinsey Heath, as Feste, is a cheery, perky jester, but her high-pitched, rapid-fire delivery obscures the verbal wit of her lines. Allison Sell makes her Phoenix-area debut as Olivia, and she's pretty delightful. Tall and lithe, she's quick to smile or attack and pumps up the energy of every scene she's in.

Shelby Maticic, the other half of Brelby, plays a sincere, accessible Viola, and she also designed the minimal costumes. The brightly colored signature pieces of each household don't appear to perform their intended function, while they look odd against the mostly neutral modern dress. Sell is in black short shorts and knee-high boots, and while that aids her movement and hints at the ambiguity of her mourning, her poor knees are covered in distracting bruises.

When I become that picky, it's for the usual reason: There were no huge, glaring problems with the play, and I found it enjoyable -- yet it wasn't so amazingly good that I could overlook the minor problems. Most of the humor is intact, and it would also be an audience-friendly, unintimidating introduction to Shakespeare. Twelfth Night continues through Sunday, August 11, in the patio behind Olde Towne Glendale Wine and Beer Bar, 5745 West Glendale Avenue. Tickets are $15; order here or call 928-279-7346.

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