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A CurtainUp Review
Twelfth Night or What You Will
Twelfth Night, as you may recall, tells the story of Viola, who was separated from her twin brother Sebastian in a shipwreck. Both improbably wash ashore on Illyria, each twin assuming that the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as Cesario, a boy, and becomes the emissary for the Duke Orsino, with whom she immediately falls in love. Duke Orsino, in turn, loves the Countess Olivia, who falls in love at first sight with the cross-dressed Viola. It's a whirligig of romancces, in which time brings in some unexpected joys and one crushing revenge.
In the Twelfth Night briskly directed by Lynnea Benson, the words are clearly spoken and the actors are likable. If it is less than a brilliant rendering of the Bard's ambiguous comedy, it is a joyous one. One of the remarkable things about this play, is how naturally it emerges from its chrysalis as it were, and takes wing upon the stage. And it's no accident. Shakespeare quarried from his earlier work to create this one, recapitulating recapitulates themes and motifs found in former plays like The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Merchant of Venice. And having honed his technique, the old plot devices of shipwreck, sundered twins, and disguise work to much better effect.
Peter Adams' minimalist set suits our recessionist-conscious times: a plain bench, lounge chair, and some topiary garden sculptures and assorted window panes are artfully strewn about the stage to evoke the atmosphere of a court. Jessa Raye Court's eclectic costume design is more hit and miss. She is spot-on in outfitting Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a plaid jacket, clashing colored shirt, and red sneakers. But she overplays her hand in giving Feste an outlandish fool's cap, replete with a flashing red light, that reduces him to a mere clown figure in early scenes.
The acting is uneven, with some of the better performances surprisingly turned in by supporting actors. The standout in the cast is Lenny Ciotti. As the puritanical steward Malvolio he conveys both the comic and poignant aspects of his character as he undergoes a social crucifixion at the hands of Maria (Leah Reddy), Sir Toby Belch (Jonathan Marballi), Andrew Aguecheek (Michael Broadhurst), and Fabian (Steve Mazzoccone). Watching Ciotti's Malvolio in Act 3 as he prepares to woo Olivia in garish clothing is utterly hilarious, and his incarceration in Act 4 is quite moving. .
. If nobody quite upstages Ciotti's Malvolio, there are several actors who hold their own during the evening. Amy Frances Quint's Olivia won't exactly dazzle you with her authority in early scenes, but she gains in presence later. Jane Cortney as Viola is competent but a bit too aggressive for this very feminine part. Unlike Shakespeare's Rosalind, the reticent Viola primarily adopts her male disguise to secure a position at Duke Orsino's court, and not to radically alter her female persona. Cortney rightly plays her as a risk-taker, though, and wonderfully shows her character's extreme capacity for love. Erick Gonzalez infuses a Latin charm into the love-sick Duke Orsino, an intentional parody of a melancholy lover. Michael Broadhurst gives endearing life to the hapless Sir Andrew Aguecheek. And though Eric Dysart portrays Feste with far too much levity in the famous courtyard scene he shows promising comic talent and possesses a strong set of pipes.
There's no doubt that Twelfth Night is a crowd-pleaser. It has been effectively staged and filmed in recent years. Trevor Nunn's 1996 film version had contemporary verve but retained the essence of Shakespeare's myth. Lincoln Center's appetizing 1998 production featured a marquee line-up of stars. Most recent was the 2009 star-studded production in Central Park.
True to the old cliché, what goes around, comes around in Twelfth Night. The current less lavish production without name actors, delivers the story true to the mission of the Frog and Peach Theater Company — to stage Shakespeare's oeuvre with emotional honesty and unvarnished truth.