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GLOBE TROTTERS NO DRAG - SHAKESPEARE PLAYED WITH VICTORIAN VIGOR AT UCLA.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Critic

EXACTLY WHAT are they putting in that water in Illyria that's got these normally staid nobles and courtiers dashing around like greyhounds on race day? What's that? Everybody's in love? Mystery solved.

Now we see why the Countess Olivia returns with a 6-foot pole ax when she perceives the object of her affection is under attack. Feelings of tenderness - or vaulting ambition - also seem to fuel Olivia's stuffy steward Malvolio. Give him a whiff of upward mobility and the man is doing laps. In Illyria, love doesn't simply give you wings, it also supplies a fully charged motor.

Heaven only knows whether this unbridled zing was characteristic of the way plays were actually staged in Renaissance England. But authenticity is the goal with Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which presents Shakespeare's ``Twelfth Night'' as one of its signature ``original practice'' productions.

In other words, with ``Twelfth Night,'' director Tim Carroll and the Globe company are trying to get as close to the way stage practices would have been 400 years ago when the play was first performed. That means period-perfect costumes, props and music. Everybody sings and dances during interludes - part of the entertainment, after all - and, oh yes, not a single woman on stage.

Score one for original practices.

A theatergoer could see 50 different ``Twelfth Nights'' and never again experience the kinds of details Carroll provides. One of the Bard's most frequently performed plays, ``Twelfth Night'' may be staged with more opulence, with more boisterous high jinks or with a greater emphasis on melancholy. But you're not likely to find an ensemble that seems to know not just this play but this world.

That kind of across-the-board knowledge is rare, and it should be valued, and to our theater-going public's credit, the Globe's 15-performance run at UCLA's Freud Playhouse is sold out.

The experience begins at the entrance to the reconfigured Freud. Audiences parade single-file past the actors' dressing tables as they're preparing. That's the best look many of us will have at Jenny Tiramani's wonderful costumes. The reeds of Keith McGowan's sextet can be heard before you enter the arena-shaped performance space.

A large wooden wall with two swinging doors is at one end; a garden arch at the other. The otherwise bare stage contains a couple of small stone benches and a shrub or two. When a prop is needed - like a box or a dining table - someone brings it out.

General friskiness aside, director Carroll offers an Illyria in which unrequited love really hurts. Moody Duke Orsino (Liam Brennan) actively struggles against the burbling feelings for his page Cesario (Michael Brown) to the point where he overturns a bench following a song. That Cesario is actually the disguised woman Viola means Orsino is in for a happy surprise. Or else consider the interplay between Patrick Brennan's Antonio and Rhys Meredith's Sebastian - a one-sided affection that clearly can't be requited. Perhaps there's something to be said for Orsino's doltish boast that men love stronger than women.

Then again, Olivia is the ax wielder. Much has been made of Mark Rylance's turn as Olivia, the ``marble-hearted'' countess whose love for Cesario/Viola shakes her out of mourning. And indeed, there's something so dynamically giddy about the way Rylance, in white face makeup and wearing a crown, deliberately sheds a shoe or hurls a basket at an intruder. Rylance doesn't walk so much as shuffle-bounce. It's a performance that, in anyone else's hands, would slide feet first into camp.

The comic machinations of Sir Toby Belch are mitigated by the fact that Bill Stewart's Sir Toby seems to have the fun drained from his activities before he can fully enjoy them. He even nearly wallops Maria (Peter Shorey) - a woman he loves almost resentfully.

As the misguided Malvolio, who receives arguably the worst treatment in all of Shakespeare, Timothy Walker gives us a prissy sourpuss transformed into a love machine, a sickly smile twisting his otherwise dour face. You almost hate to see the man brought down. Almost.

There are, from the opening melody to the closing jig, continual delights spread across these three hours. Good Shakespeare is a gift. Carroll, Rylance and the Globe Theatre know just how to wrap it.

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson(at)dailynews.com

TWELFTH NIGHT - Three and one half stars

Where: UCLA Freud Playhouse, Westwood.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 8 p.m. Sunday; through Nov. 2.

Tickets: $40 to $60. Call (310) 825-2101.

In a nutshell: Exquisitely performed Shakespeare with an eye toward period authenticity.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Rhys Meredith, left, and Michael Brown star in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's ``Twelfth Night'' at UCLA. The company performs the plays as they would have been in the author's time.
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 24, 2003
Words:802
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