Go West, Bardner

Wes Martin is a guy who does not subscribe to the commonly held belief that culture in the Valley stops at the Black Canyon freeway. As a 10-year veteran director and performer with Theatreworks, he has seen productions as diversified as The Music Man, Pippin and Marat/Sade all do great business on the west side of town. But even with a proven base of theater-loving audience members keeping that strip mall-housed community playhouse full to more than 90 percent capacity season after season, there is precious little in the way of "classical" theater anywhere within shouting distance of Mesa.

That is the hole that The Shakespeare Theatre is hoping to fill. With this past August's exciting production of The Life and Death of King Richard III, the company is off to a terrific start. Martin, who wears the mantle as the group's founder, president, CEO and producer, still had time to direct Richard III. That production drew about 400 folks to Cactus High School's auditorium in Glendale. The first week's crowd was spotty due to minimal publicity, but the word spread quickly and the houses started to look pretty good by week two. The ground has thus been laid out nicely for the company's second Shakespearean mounting of that seasonal favorite Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

But why a new Shakespeare theater when the long-running Southwest Shakespeare Company seemingly has that audience covered? Martin puts it simply: "Living on the extreme west side of town, it was just too much of a haul to keep going back and forth." Martin's wanted to do some Bill S. for a long time now and kept hoping somebody would get around to starting up a company closer to home. Since no one ever did, he finally decided to give it a shot. When asked about that well-known bias separating Mesa/Scottsdale from Peoria/Sun City, Martin notes that some of the largest and most loyal play-going audiences are in the avenues--the crowd that has made Theatreworks such a long-running success.

Besides, the demographic shifts in the Valley are all aimed both north and west. For proof, Martin points to the locations of the local car dealerships--they traditionally seek out the center of any population, and all the majors have continued the northern migration. Once upon a time they were all clustered around Van Buren. The next wave showed up on Camelback then on to Glendale west of Black Canyon. Nowadays all the nice new shiny lots are way up on Bell in the Peoria area. According to this theory, The Shakespeare Company actually performs pretty close to the center of town.

One of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, Twelfth Night is named for the now almost forgotten holiday the Feast of the Epiphany, happening 12 nights after Christmas. As the culmination of the holiday season, it was the festive focal point of the celebration--once upon a time Christmas day was the religious part of the season and January 6 served as the time for festivals and general merrymaking. Although there are no direct references to the Feast of the Epiphany in the play itself, the general light spirit of the celebration is what's called to mind (the work was probably written for performance on January 6).

The title--two titles, actually, since "or What You Will" is part of it's official moniker--was a warning to Elizabethan-era audiences that this is one of those plays to sit back and enjoy. It's not wise to sweat the details, like those male and female "identical" twins who, let's face it, never look a thing alike; or the duke who falls immediately in love with and marries a woman who, just moments before, he knew as his male servant; and don't forget the buffoon who sincerely believes his fortunes will be forever changed by changing his stockings into a rather hideous bright yellow pair. No, this is not a play to pick apart. It's there for the sole purpose of having a laugh and celebrating the happiest of seasons.

--David Gofstein

Opening performances of Twelfth Night, or What You Will are at 8 p.m. Thursday, January 7; the same time Friday, January 8; and Saturday, January 9; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, January 10, at the Cactus High School Auditorium, located at 6330 West Greenway Road in Glendale. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for juniors and seniors. Tickets are available at the door and through Dillard's. 503-5555.

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David Gofstein