Point Park University theater students are getting a chance to tackle Shakespeare, taking on the challenges of Twelfth Night. Director Bridget Connors conceived a fresh look at the comedy, setting it on the shores of 1920s East Hampton. She underscores this with Gershwin's music, jolly dancing, beach scenes and many more visuals while characters volley words in random shots, often slamming them down to make points.
This production emphasizes broad physical playing rather than getting students to make the most of the Bard's language. However, some performers do well delivering the essentials of the lines, even if they don't get the inherent flow and eloquence. Connors' choppy pacing adds to that impression.
Among her inventions, she has Feste, the fool, played by a woman, without changing dialogue that refers to "him" as "a fellow." In this role, Sheridan Singleton stands out with non-stop charm, singing wonderfully a couple of songs for which the Bard wrote the words. (No one is credited in the program for composing the music, though an adaptation of the music is credited to Melissa Yenchek.) Singleton also gets to wear stunning period dresses by Don DiFonso.
Alex Walton does well getting the essential meaning in Orsino's lines, as do Audra Qualley and Chase Kinney, as Maria and Sebastian. They never overplay. On the other end of the scale, Nicholas Direso, Nicholas Browne and Scotland Newton -- as Sir Toby (oddly listed as "Sir Toby Blech"), Sir Andrew and Malvolio -- deliver everything so big you might think they've been encouraged to perform period-appropriate vaudeville acts.
The rest of the cast stands somewhere between, usually gamely credible although without providing much meaningful definition.
Connors' staging sometimes gets so enamored of decoration that foreground actors have to compete for attention with music played under their speeches, or with background actors distractingly doing their own business. Connors should know better.
Of course, it doesn't pay to think too seriously about how and why Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia have power and dominion on a sandy stretch of Long Island. It's better to think of this as an attempt at audience-friendly entertainment, and a game try at training students to play some kind of Shakespeare.
TWELFTH NIGHT continues through Sun., Dec. 18. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-392-8000 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com