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‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Hyperbole: bard’ at UCI’s New Swan, ‘Tempest’ brewing

After seeing a production of “Twelfth Night” last year, I decided it wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s better plays. New Swan Shakespeare Festival’s current production (running through Aug. 30 at UC Irvine) has convinced me there’s more to it than I thought. It’s also a much funnier play than I realized, at least in the hands of director Eli Simon, who’s cleverly reimagined the Bard’s world of Illyria as Hollywood of the 1920s and sent in the clowns to take charge of the zany goings-on.

Studio mogul Duke Orsino (David Nevell) is ostensibly in command, and his tangled love triangle with movie queen Olivia (Samantha Aneson) and shipwreck survivor Viola (Rosemary Brownlow), who’s disguised as a boy, forms the central plot. But vaudevillian Feste (Joshua Blair), Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Sean Spann) and his dim-witted pal Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Greg Ungar) are the lunatics running the asylum and making a mockery of the proceedings—all to the tune of a ragtime piano.

Blair, who renders his songs in a style suggesting “The Threepenny Opera,” is outstanding in his seriocomic performance as the wise fool. Spann is hilarious as his chief cohort, while Ungar and Hayley Palmer (Olivia’s maid, Maria) are highly amusing as their accomplices. Aneson could rely on her glamorous movie star looks but instead offers an incisive portrait of the feminine psyche; Brownlow’s thoughtful characterization does much to clarify the complications of the plot. Kathryn Wilson’s costumes are impressive. Call 949-824-2787 or visit
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Alchemy’s ‘Taming of Shrew’ in Fullerton & HB, 3-D’s ‘Damn Yankees’ in Redondo

Shakespeare and Solo Performance:
How John Gielgud Paved the Trail for Ian McKellen & Others

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Rogue Artists Ensemble’s “Hyperbole: bard” (through Aug. 24 at New Swan/UCI) is a ragged remix of scenes from Shakespeare, directed by Sean T. Cawelti. Highlights include parodies of “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with masks, and a song explaining iambic pentameter. It’s wildly inventive and laugh-out-loud funny at times, relentlessly silly at others—hit and miss for adults but pure delight for kids.

Seems there’s a storm abrewing with Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Mysterium Theatre continues their interpretation with music by AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, and Metallica through Aug. 17 in Santa Ana (call 714-505-3454 for info)… Cornerstone Theatre Co. has announced a new adaptation called “California: The Tempest,” which will embark on a statewide tour beginning with two staged readings at Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 22 and 23 (800-578-1335)… And South Coast Repertory is gearing up for their own Aug. 29-Sept. 28 production, adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller (of Penn & Teller), with songs by Tom Waits and movement by Pilobolus (714-708-5555).

Shakespeare OC’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (set in Polynesia) was such a blockbuster hit, the company has postphoned “Romeo and Juliet” until 2015… upcoming shows at SOC’s outdoor Garden Grove venue include George M. Cohan’s “The Tavern” (Aug. 9-30 and the wonderous Backhausdance troupe (Sept. 25-27), which you won’t want to miss if you love modern dance (714-590-1575).

Hot tip: Word of mouth is that Orange Coast College has an unexpected hit on its hands with a world premiere musical based on Arthur Miller’s "The Creation of the World and Other Business," continuing through Aug. 9 (714-432-5072).

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