TWELFTH NIGHT, or what you will, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, at the Athenaeum Theatre. For all the concealment that fuels Shakespeare’s subtlest comedy, what moves us is the self-deception–Orsino’s abstract long-distance courtship of Olivia, Olivia’s passion for the wrong twin, and Malvolio’s smug self-infatuation.

Tom Patrick’s streamlined staging is vaguely placed in the 1920s–though without the musical backdrop to sustain that setting. Sluggish in the softer moments, this Shakespeare’s Motley Crew production still conveys much of the play’s magic. Cameron Feagin’s Viola may seem insistent where she could be seductive, but we never doubt her ardor for Doug MacKechnie’s sobersided Orsino. Rick Kraus’s properly prissy Malvolio may not achieve greatness, but by the end he’s had pathos thrust upon him. Phil Timberlake’s loud, nerdy Sir Andrew overdoses on stupidity. Stephen J. Rose’s surprisingly graceful Toby Belch recalls Chris Farley in overdrive. And William Sidney Parker, who plays a mean saxophone, makes a sleekly sardonic Feste.

One gender-breaking deception here is not in the script. Antonio, the sailor whose passion for Sebastian (charming Ryan Pfeiffer) creates Shakespeare’s most ardent male bonding, has been turned into “Antonia” (played by Maia Rosenfeld with suitable spunk). Whatever the excuse–too few female parts, or a reluctance to embrace the play’s homoeroticism–the alteration traduces the text and mars the ending. Much more than Antonio, Antonia is left bereft and abandoned. That’s not Shakespeare’s style.

–Lawrence Bommer