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Twelfth Night in the middle of a July heat wave? Not to worry: despite the last-day-of-Christmas title, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy has always been a play for all seasons, with its roundelay of one-way passions (Duke Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek for the Countess Olivia, Olivia for Viola in her disguise as Cesario, Viola for Orsino) and its hints of same-sex affections (Antonio and Sebastian — and can we be sure that Olivia doesn’t suspect Cesario is a woman?). Then there’s Sir Toby Belch as the Lord of Misrule, proof that any time of year is right for turning things topsy-turvy in a world where " the rain it raineth every day. "

On the Common, however, where Commonwealth Shakespeare is presenting its free performance of Twelfth Night, it has not been raining, and as of the final preview night this past Tuesday, the sound system was working perfectly and the actors were hitting on all cylinders. Highlights of that performance included Cheryl Gaysunas’s Mary Martin–like Viola, Siobhan Juanita Brown’s imperial-but-girlish Olivia, Thomas Derrah’s acidulous Malvolio, Richard McElvain’s hippie Sir Toby (looks like Willie Nelson), John Kuntz’s aqua-lounge-suited (and that’s just his first outfit) Sir Andrew, Karen MacDonald’s steel-magnolia Maria, and Will Lebow’s Elvis-in-Vegas Feste, who sings " Trip no further, pretty sweeting;/Journeys end in lovers meeting " like you’ve never heard it. The bluesy score underlines the pathos of all this frustrated longing; you’ll even catch snatches of " New York, New York, " the Perry Mason theme, and " Manha da Carnaval. " And talk about groundling Shakespeare: when’s the last time you saw beer getting spilt on the Bard’s stage? It’s enough to make you think Commonwealth artistic director Steven Maler should be doing not one but two annual productions.

Twelfth Night plays Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. through August 5. If rain looks possible, call (617) 423-7077. Carolyn Clay’s full review will appear in next week’s Arts section.

Issue Date: July 26 - August 2, 2001