"Twelfth Night": Theater Review

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Through May 1 at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster), S.F. $15-$35; 800-838-3006 or www.african-americanshakes.org.

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It's a curious choice to paint one of Shakespeare's bawdiest comedies with the moody grandeur of a 1940s film noir, but one that proves eminently likable. Marcus Shelby's original jazz score brings a torchy, swiveling air to the 1940s San Francisco backdrop, and the stellar lead and supporting cast were able to turn the few flubs into an all-out zoot suit riot. Rebecca Frank shines as Olivia, especially in her slinky aloofness and her excitable wooing of Viola (Renee Wilson), a woman disguised as a boy. Malvolio's (Michael Kelly) tight-lipped sense of entitlement is savory, and the mischievous eavesdropping scene with Toby Belch (J. Darryl Williams), Andrew Aguecheek (Martin Grizzell), and Fabian (Chris Dewey) pretending to be moving portraits was a hilarious re-envisioning. A few staging misdemeanors took the oomph out of the romance between Orsino (Matt Jones) and Viola, since almost all of their scenes took place in a corner offstage and usually facing away from the audience, a grievance acutely felt when Viola turned her back to us during her beautifully soulful serenade. Barring that, it's apt to say that the story's climax, Olivia's delight at the "discovery" of not one but two husbands, also applies to the play itself: "Most wonderful!"

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