Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Searchlight Theatre Company, at National Pastime Theater. Shakespeare rewards even the slightest attempt to produce his work–and that’s the only extenuation for Searchlight Theatre Company’s debut production, on-the-job training intended to pass for a professional staging. As directed by Michael Garcia, this is an efficient but ineloquent modern-dress revival where no one soars and no one sinks. Here the play’s two pivotal points–Viola’s testing of her beloved Orsino while she’s disguised as a boy and the rotten practical joke played on priggish Malvolio, who’s tricked into a false declaration of love–both lack urgency because the actors know their lines but don’t understand them.
The pros stand out, like Daniel Houle as waggish Sir Toby Belch and Barbara Figgins as a manipulative maid. Meanwhile other players mispronounce words like “surfeited” and “deserts,” apparently hoping that energy will substitute for inspiration. Brooks Ralston and Helen Manasses bring youthful glamor to the aristocratic lovers, and Melissa Young’s Viola is amusing when her camouflage collapses during an attempted duel. But her character’s infatuation with Orsino never kindles into poetry. And Garcia’s gender bending is ill advised. Katie Dugan plays jester Feste with monotonous petulance, reciting rather than singing “O Mistress Mine.” Faring even worse is lovely Ellie Kaufman as Malvolio: oddly unthreatening, she comes off as a lesbian coming out. When Shakespeare subtitled the play “what you will,” he didn’t mean that.