NEW YORK — Twelfth Night or What You Will Comedy by William Shakespeare. Directed by Harold Guskin. PACED by Gregory Hines's irrepressible Feste, a winning New York Shakespeare Festival troupe is frolicking its way through the comic intricacies of ``Twelfth Night,'' at the Delacourte Theater in Central Park. Clad in spangly glad rags, Mr. Hines is glib, nimble, witty, and a deft performer on the snare drum that passes for a tabor. (He also absorbs the small role of Fabian.)
Director Harold Guskin and his colleagues take sportive advantage of Shakespeare's permissive title, ``Twelfth Night, or What You Will.'' They have willed a summery gambol. The play that Haslitt called ``one of the most delightful'' of Shakeapeare's comedies ``aims at the ludicrous rather than the ridiculous.'' With such a cue, Mr. Guskin offers this tongue-in-cheek program note: ``Set around the Turn of the Century. Illyria can be found somewhere on the Mediterranean. It is a self-sustained community, somewhat like Monaco.''
And it is there, backed by an airy surround of Riviera architecture by John Lee Beatty, that Viola (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) begins her wildly unlikely Mediterranean adventure. This Viola bears a sufficient resemblance to twin brother Sebastian (Graham Winton) to make Shakespeare's happy last-act resolution more plausible than is sometimes the case.
Viola and Sebastian, you will recall, each believe that the other has perished in a shipwreck off the coast. Disguised as Cesario, Viola becomes the emissary of Duke Orsino (Stephen Collins) in his fruitless suit for the hand of Olivia (Michelle Pfeiffer), a haughty neighboring countess mourning the recent death of her brother.
Mr. Guskin and his interracial company treat the whole affair as a strictly summery tale, with charming incidental music by Peter Golub. Most of the directorial gags are funny; some are cutesy; a few are merely coarse. But they all fit the tenor of the treatment, with its fancy-dress costumes by Jeanne Button in a production luminously lighted by Richard Nelson. In terms of the verse, this is a prosaic affair. In terms of foolery, it is a case of Mack Sennett on the Riviera.
Miss Mastrantonio gives a nicely forthright performance as the much torn Viola. Smartly disguised in jacket and slacks and a very rich poor boy's cap, she copes valiantly with the heroine's mounting dilemma. Increasingly attracted to Orsino, Viola must also ward off the romantic importunings of the fretful Olivia. Meanwhile, Sir Toby Belch (John Amos), Maria (Charlaine Woodard), Feste, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Fisher Stevens) are harassing poor Cesario and plotting their heartless revenge against Malvolio (Jeff Goldblum), Olivia's preening, censorious steward. It may be a comment on the revival that Goldblum, an excellent comedian, gets more laughs from his appearance in a droopy black bathing suit than in the letter-reading scene.
On the soggy night I attended, the cast and spectators weathered some minor meteorological disturbances. Instead of thundershowers, however, pink-flecked gray clouds gave way to only occasional sprinkles that didn't dampen any spirits. The slight inclemencies won Hines some extra chuckles when he came to the final song's ``The Rain it raineth every day.'' Based on this sampling, there is no doubt that the Hines Feste reigneth every night (through July 23) as the New York Shakespeare Festival marks No. 10 in its Shakespeare Marathon.