Shakespeare’s groovy `Night’

That Shakespeare is one groovy guy, man.

For centuries, enterprising directors have taken the Bard of Avon’s work and twisted and pulled it like so much theatrical taffy.

But the thing about Shakespeare is this: He’s a big boy. He can take it.

Do what you will with his work, ye directors of grand imagination. The brilliance, as they say, will out.

Robert Kelley, the founding artistic director of Mountain View’s TheatreWorks, is having a little fun with ol’ Willie Shakes. Kelley’s production of Twelfth Night, which opens Saturday (Dec.1) at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, is going to be hipper than usual — or maybe the better word is “hippie-er.”

Kelley is setting this sublimely romantic play in the Summer of Love, when life was psychedelic, the skies were blazing blue and the grass was, ahem, oh so green.

To help blend the worlds of Shakespeare and 1967, Kelley has assembled a team that includes composer Paul Gordon (coming off his big TheatreWorks musical hit Emma), set designer Andrea Bechert and costumer Allison Connor.

Connor, a native of Palo Alto and now a Berkeley resident, has a long history with TheatreWorks. She was actually in the company’s first production, Popcorn, in 1970.

In her years as a costume designer, Connor, who teaches humanities at San Jose City College and costume design at San Jose State, has outfitted many Shakespearean productions. In fact, this is her fourth Twelfth Night.

Some of those productions had concepts that worked. Others didn’t.

“I did a more traditional Italian Renaissance production of Romeo and Juliet that was really beautiful,” Connor says. “Did another R&J set on another planet. That was really awful. As a designer, you tend to go along with what the director wants, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. And that one did not work at all.”

Usually a director hires a costume designer, but in the case of the current Twelfth Night, Connor actually called her old friend Kelley. She told him, in essence, that he simply had to hire her.

“I was around in the ’60s,” Connor explains. “I was a child for most of it _ I graduated high school in ’72 — but it was a really formative period in my life. I remember it all vividly. My mother was politically active in the civil rights and peace movements, and as a child I was participating. I was in a peace march at 10 years old. I saw (Janis) Joplin perform. I was at Monterey Pop at 12 years old. I saw the Beatles at Candlestick Park — couldn’t really hear them or see them well, but I can say I was there.”

Of course, we tend to look at the late ’60s through somewhat rose-tinted glasses, and Connor acknowledges that the period had its very good — and very bad — points. You won’t see the nasty stuff on stage in this more idyllic version of the ’60s.

“I wasn’t interested in helping design a Christmas show about the seedy underbelly of the ’60s,” Connor says. “I wanted it light and colorful. It’s the ’60s that never happened, quite frankly. We’re not seeing the Vietnam War. Not seeing a lot of the stuff that was really there. What we’re seeing is a lot of color and graphics style influenced by Peter Max and the BeatlesYellow Submarine.”

For her costumes, Connor looked to ’60s rock icons for inspiration. Duke Orsino is based directly on Jimi Hendrix. The separated twins, Viola and Sebastian, both wear uniforms that are a combination of Hendrix and the Beatles‘ “Sgt. Pepper’s.”

The character of Feste, the court jester, has been expanded to become a three-piece band, and their costumes are inspired by the kind of patchwork jacket favored by Hendrix.

And though they’re not exact replicas by any means, Antonio is inspired by Country Joe MacDonald, Sir Toby Belch is a takeoff of Wavy Gravy and Olivia’s final dress takes its cue from Joplin.

“This is a play that lends itself to style,” Connor says. “I’ve done it many different ways, but that’s why Shakespeare’s wonderful. You can place his shows, especially the comedies, anywhere you want. Shakespeare’s writing is so strong he can withstand some of the worst things directors have done to him. The intelligence, humor and wonderful writing shines through.”

The gimmick of placing Twelfth Night in the Summer of Love, Connor says, seems to fit.

“The play is about love in all its many forms — romantic love, love between siblings, love between friends — and everything is resolved cheerfully in the end,” she says. “All of that is coming out very strongly in this production.”

Twelfth Night continues through Dec. 23 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $20-$56. Call 650-903-6000 or visit for information.

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