Following intermission in Center Stage's production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," Feste the clown comes out and hams up a series of famous speeches from Shakespeare's greatest hits -- "Hamlet," "Romeo and Juliet," "Othello," etc.
It's like a TV ad for a cassette of classical favorites -- except Feste, played by former circus clown Robert Dorfman, throws in a few bars from "West Side Story" and even a reference to "Tea and Sympathy."
The point -- stressed during the stand-up comedy routine with which Mr. Dorfman introduces the play -- is that in "Twelfth Night," anything goes.
That's the theme of this wild and crazy Shakespearean whirl, which opened in the Pearlstone Theater last night under the direction of Irene Lewis, Center Stage's new acting artistic director.
The score, composed by Thomas Cabaniss, ranges from do-wop to cabaret ballads; John M. Conklin's set, inspired by the odd perspective in Giorgio de Chirico's fantastical paintings, features a black palm tree and props including plastic trash bags.
Outrageous as all this may seem, it is not without some justification. One of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, "Twelfth Night" takes its title from the day the Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated, 12 days after Christmas. Originally a religious holiday, it eventually got so out of control that the church tried to do away with it.
The world of the play is also out of control. Count Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia, but she falls for the count's servant, Cesario. Cesario, however, is actually Viola, a shipwrecked lady, who has disguised her gender for protection in a strange port. There's also a subplot in which Olivia's servants dupe her pompous, puritanical steward, Malvolio, into believing Olivia is in love with him.
Everything straightens itself out in the end, but it is to director Lewis' credit that, besides the frivolity, she lets us see some of the darkness and danger that spring from the characters' misguided notions of themselves and others.
Liann Pattison's Olivia presents herself as a proper member of society, but she has a ditsy side as well; when Olivia mistakenly falls for Viola, Ms. Lewis includes more than a hint of the love that dare not speak its name. And, in the gender-bending role of Viola/Cesario, Mia Korf does a jaunty job making all things seem possible.
But it is Mr. Dorfman, in the enlarged role of Feste, who holds things together. His master-of-ceremonies approach may be unconventional, but it works. He is the mainstay in a world where most of the characters' perspectives are as skewed as the de Chirico-esque set. And, just as his clown is no fool, so Center Stage's funny, free-wheeling production is more than fluff.
"Twelfth Night" continues at Center Stage through May 12. Call 332-0033.