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BWW Reviews: Laughter Abounds During TWELFTH NIGHT at Carlson Park in Culver City

BWW Reviews: Laughter Abounds During TWELFTH NIGHT at Carlson Park in Culver City

Now in its 16th season, Culver City Public Theatre (CCPT) is committed to providing admission-free, quality outdoor theatre every summer, presenting classic, contemporary, and original productions for audiences of all ages. This season runs on Saturdays and Sundays from July 12 to August 17 and is comprised of two productions: a Children's Popcorn Theatre presentation, THE QUIBBLING SIBLINGS written and directed by Blake Anthony Edwards, and main stage production of Shakespeare's mad cap comedy romp TWELFTH NIGHT, directed by Ken MacFarlane.

It was a gray and dismal day in Culver City, but you would never know it from the merriment taking place in Paul Carlson Park during TWELFTH NIGHT. Even the weather was accommodating, allowing the play to finish before raindrops made their appearance!

With Twelfth Night or What You Will, William Shakespeare reached perhaps his highest achievement in sheer comedy of merriment, gaiety and love. Written in about 1601 between As You Like It and Hamlet, it is considered by many to be one of the Bard's best plays where the plot is not as important as the familiar characters creating a world of celebration and joy.

While there is speculation that Twelfth Night was written for the 12th night of Christmas by request of Queen Elizabeth, a holiday which celebrates revelry by turning the world upside down, with masks, music, dance, celebrating a moment where servants are masters, masters are servants, and not all seems as it should be. While there is no proof for this speculation, it was certainly the author's and this production's comic inspiration.

Featured in the cast are Ben Schneider (Feste); Cristian Joel Gonzalez (Duke Orsino); Nakisa Aschtiani (Viola); Carol Vandegrift (Maria); Marcy Hiratzka (Fabiana); Kerry Kaz (Malvolio); Robert Stanley Drake (Sir Andrew Aguecheek); Katelyn Statton (Olivia); Randy Pound (sir Toby Belch); Randy Brown (Valentine); Lorenzo Bastien (Sebastian); Micah Watterson (Antonio).

Costumer Lauren Billingsley greatly assists the audience by using color to differentiate the three groups of characters in the play. Duke Orsino's court is dressed in cool blues, Olivia's are dressed in warm shades of purple, and Sir Toby and his drunken followers are clothed in rich shades of gold and red. For the many children in the audience, I am sure this made the story much easier to follow, knowing which characters belonged with each group.

Adding to the sense of whimsy are the opening and closing ensemble dance numbers choreographed by Michael-Anthony Nozzi. From the moment the play starts, you know this is not to be taken too seriously and become more than willing to put your cares aside and follow the tale of mistaken identities and mismatched lovers.

A standout among the cast is Ben Schneider as Feste, the court jester who takes on many roles with great ease by donning various pieces of clothing. At the beginning of the play Schneider's pure joy of performing for an audience will grab your attention and prepare you for the laughter sure to come your way.

Nakisa Aschtiani first appears as the shipwrecked Viola, a young woman of aristocratic birth who has washed up on the shore of Illyria when her ship is wrecked in a storm. Viola decides to make her own way in the world by disguising herself as a young man, calling herself "Cesario," and becomes a page to Duke Orsino (handsome Cristian Joel Gonzalez who also masterfully choreographed the fencing matches). She ends up falling in love with Orsino-even as Olivia (Katelyn Statton), the woman Orsino is courting, falls in love with Cesario. Thus, Viola finds that her clever disguise has entrapped her: she cannot tell Orsino that she loves him, and she cannot tell Olivia why she, as Cesario, cannot love her. Her poignant plight is the central conflict and generates lots of merriment in the play.

While Aschtiani never really takes on the full persona of a male as Cesario, not even lowering her voice, it seems rather impossible that anyone would ever believe her to be a man. But this is comedy and anything is possible! After the Duke orders Cesario to deliver a love note to Olivia, there are very comical moments between Aschtiani's Cesario and Katelyn Statton's Olivia with mistaken identity creating real dilemmas for poor Cesario. To complicate matters, Viola's long-lost brother Sebastian (the dashing Lorenzo Bastien) shows up just in time for Olivia to mistake him for Cesario, persuading him rather easily to elope with her there and then. Of course, he is only too willing to oblige even though Olivia is a total stranger to him.

Randy Brown (Valentine) and Micah Watterson (Antonio) add much-needed male swagger and humor as they defend the honor of their cohorts. But the real comic relief revolves around the drunken Sir Toby Belch (Randy Pound), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Robert Stanley Drake), and the lovely bar wenches Maria (Carol Vandegrift) and Fabiana (Marcy Hiratzka) who trick an unsuspecting and lovesick Malvolio (the righteously indignant Kerry Kaz) into donning yellow stockings and a wild pink getup to win Olivia's heart. To be sure, even if you lose track of the story, when these characters are onstage all you need to do is roar with laughter at their antics and all will be well.

So forget your troubles for a few hours and bring a blanket or lawn chair for seating in Carlson Park to enjoy TWELFTH NIGHT at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays through August 17. Admission is free with donations gratefully accepted. Please be mindful to respect the surrounding neighborhood residences by refraining from blocking their driveways. Information Line: 310-712-5482 or email,

There are no dogs permitted in Carlson Park, but that did not stop several audience members from bringing theirs on leash, all of whom sat still as if watching the play with great intent. One dog each barked loudly when the fencing match started, adding to the intensity of the scene.

BWW Reviews: Laughter Abounds During TWELFTH NIGHT at Carlson Park in Culver City
Randy Pound (Sir Toby), Marcy Hiratzka (Fabiana), Robert Stanley Drake (Sir Andrew) and Ben Schneider (Feste) looking on with Kerry Kaz (Malvolio) in the foreground.

BWW Reviews: Laughter Abounds During TWELFTH NIGHT at Carlson Park in Culver City
Nakisa Aschtiani and Cristian Joel Gonzalez as Viola and Orsino, with Randy Brown in the background as Valentine.

BWW Reviews: Laughter Abounds During TWELFTH NIGHT at Carlson Park in Culver City

Merriment abounds!

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