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LA Weekly
Thursday, February 18, 2010

By Paul Birchall

The idea of traipsing through a dark, damp graveyard on a weekend night to watch a Shakespeare play may be a daunting prospect, but at least audiences who attend director Jerry Ruiz's smooth and energetic production will be assured of seeing a engaging rendition of one of the Bard's jolliest comedies. The show is actually presented inside the picturesque (and grave-free) Masonic Lodge on the cemetery property, which provides a striking, dramatic backdrop for any play. (The beautifully constructed, colorfully decorated ceiling beams of the auditorium are worth seeing, even aside from the play.) Viola (Hilary Ward) dresses in drag to serve Count Orsino (Owiso Odera) and falls in love with him, but the woman Orsino has his eye on, beautiful Olivia (Teri Reeves), falls for Viola. Meanwhile, Olivia's drunkard Uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Matt Gaydos) and his ne'er do well pals play a mean spirited prank on Olivia's prissy, Puritan steward Malvolio (Charles Janasz). Ruiz's staging is both intelligently introspective and energetic, even though some of the comic shtick doesn't seem to naturally flow from the text and comes across as being weakly timed. Still, the production possesses a commendable clarity, which itself makes it a fine, competently rendered version of the show. It also boasts some remarkably well defined character work. Reeves's nicely brittle Olivia warms amusingly to Ward's befuddled Viola, while Guilford Adams's glum fool Feste plays nicely off of Gaydos's decadent Sir Toby. However, it's Janasz's brilliantly uptight Malvolio, and his ghoulishly hilarious attempts to woo Olivia all cross gartered and leering like a gassy Jack O'Lantern, that truly offers this show's standout performance. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006. Chalk Repertory Company. (Paul Birchall)

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