I felt some mixed feelings watching Twelfth Night in A Noise Within's new, 283-seat Pasadena digs. The first reaction is the now oft-stated sense of wonder, if not awe, at the company's rare accomplishment: that the decades-old dream held by co-founders Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott to move from the intimate Masonic Lodge stage in Glendale into a bona fide, built-from-the-ground-up arts and education facility — i.e., to establish the company as an institution — is now mostly funded and real.
But now that they've gotten the prize and the responsibilities that come with it, will they be able to afford to do what they want, on the scale that they want? Financial constraints have placed other companies that made the move from small to midsize theater in matching artistic constraints.
Rodriguez-Elliott says she wants to continue the troupe's tradition of doing classical rep — which means using a lot of actors rather than the solo and two- or three-member ensembles that populate so many of our midsize venues, since they save on costs.
Then there's the company's aesthetic, which I've found in the past — with some notable exceptions — to be competent but stylistically pinched. What a relief it was, then, in this Pasadena debut outing, to see Rodriguez-Elliott stage a bolder take on Twelfth Night, setting the production in Cuba and infusing the comedy with all manner of sultry rhythms and music.
Yet it's a cavernous, quasi-industrial theater, much in the style of the three midsize theaters at downtown's Los Angeles Theatre Center complex. The architecture bore down on the comedy, so that even the large ensemble, with its dancing, sashaying and vocal training, worked valiantly to pierce the empty spaces in the sky, which were filled as much with their echoes as with their voices. Perhaps it's just a sound-system issue yet to be worked out (the company is just breaking in the space), but this is a tough room for comedy and for intimate emotions compared with their former, smaller Glendale digs. I can easily imagine more austere, formal classics fitting in comfortably here: Hamlet, Dr. Faustus, Shakespeare's history plays, perhaps Yeats' The Land of Heart's Desire or T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.
For all these paradoxes, this is an organization that knows what it wants and knows how to get it. They will be buffeted by our vexing economy, which will test any flickering spark of adventurousness they possess, but an abiding intuition tells me they made the right move, for the right reasons. —Steven Leigh Morris
A Noise Within now is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. at Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in Pasadena (Sierra Madre Gold Line connection); anoisewithin.org.