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A CurtainUp Review
Twelfth Night

If music be the food of love, play on,/Give me excess of it that surfeiting/The appetite may sicken and so die.-- .— Orsino
12th Night Puppets
Puppeteer/director Vit Horejs with (L-R) Valentine, Orsino and Curio. Puppets by Milos Kasal.
(Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
If you find that your appetite for Shakespeare has dulled with too many mediocre productions, then it's time that you discovered The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's version of Twelfth Night which is currently running at La Mama E.T.C. This enchanting whirligig of a show is the last event of their Puppet Series3. Instead of casting Shakespeare's tale of mistaken identity and romantic love with live actors, this international company populates the stage with eight-inch marionettes. Their wooden-heads wonderfully underscore the wooden-headen behaviors of all the zany characters in the classic story.

The non-linear, convoluted story of Twelfth Night is best summed up as a tale of rebirth that chronologically begins with a shipwreck that separates the adult twins Viola and Sebastian at sea. Though each twin believes the other drowned, both miraculously wash ashore on the coast of Illyria. To survive the catastrophe, Viola cross-dresses as the boy "Cesario" (Latin for "little monarch") and gains employment at the court of Duke Orsino. Her brother Sebastian will appear later in various parts of Illyria, most conspicuously on the aristocratic estate of Countess Olivia. It's all a rich tapestry of bereavement, a search for self-identity, revelry (with a motley group of servants), a probing examination of all kinds of human desire, plus some unfinished business for at least one character (the steward Malvolio). And it is only at the play's end that Orsino and Olivia, the young lovers and central characersare happily matched and the triangulated love affairs resolved (sort of).

This puppet production of Twelfth Night surprisingly and delightfully reverses the notion that Shakespeare is all about elevated language and larger-than-life personages. The play is literally served up on a three-tea-tray set (design by Emily Wilson). And though some of the original text is carved away to streamline this 90-minute adaptation, what remains is still an authentic rendering of Shakespeare's work that was written circa 1601.

The production does have it's drawbacks in that it fails to deliver on the drama's full emotional impact. Although the actor-puppeteers do engage themselves in certain scenes to heighten the dramatic effect, the evening nevetheless plays out like a Punch-and-Judy show with Shakespearean motifs tacked on. Without live actors impersonating Shakespeare's characters, you get the outline of the story without the onion-like layers hidden beneath. So don't go to this Twelfth Night expecting your emotions to be plumbed to their deepest depths or raised to their highest heights.

This is an event to be enjoyed for its rich artfulness, not its profound qualities — to appreciate how Vit Horejs directs with an elfin touch that casts a magical aura over the entire evening's proceedings. The actor-puppeteers (Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw & Vit Horejs) are virtuosos at handling their cadre of tiny puppets as well as maneuvering the three portable carts that support the tea-tray stages. Each marionette is a one-of-a-kind antique, exquisitely detailed, and each will surely reawaken the child in you.

The most memorable scenes revolve around the Duke Orsino, portrayed here as an uptown decadent type, lounging atop a hollowed-out lobster shell. Although he thinks he's in love with the Countess Olivia, Orsino is really in love with the idea of love. Consider this revealing moment when Orsino, having exhausted his romantic imagination, picks up a lobster claw and gives it to "Cesario" to deliver to the Countess as love-bait. Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won? To her credit, Olivia never accepts Orsino's love. Unlike Lady Anne in King Richard III, the Countess listens to her heart, not her physical appetites or feminine fears.

This is Shakespeare dramatized into delicious bite-sized pieces that nobody can —or should—resist. Compliments to the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT for demonstating that puppets can deliverShakespeare's work with charming inventiveness.

Editor's Note: For reviews of other Twelfth Night productions reviewed at Curtainup, see our Shakespeare Page which contains links to reviews and quotations.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Vit Horejs
Cast: Deborah Beshaw (Valentine, Sir Toby, Olivia, Antonio), Michelle Beshaw (Curio, Viola, Andrew Aguecheek, Sebastian), Vit Horejs (Orsino, Captain, Maria, Fool, Malvolio, Officer)
Sets: Emily Wilson
Costumes: Emily Wilson and Michelle Beshaw
Lighting: Federico Restrepo
Marionettes: Milos Kasal
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. La Mama E.T.C. (at the First Floor Theatre) at 74A East 4th Street, tickets are $18, phone (212) 475-7710 or visit
From 11/12/09; closing 11/29/09.
Thursday through Saturday @ 8pm and Sunday @ 2:30pm.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on November 12 th press performance
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