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Twelfth Night

a Comedy
CATEGORY :
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3917

SHOWING : January 06, 2011 - January 30, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A shipwreck, separated fraternal twins, mistaken identities, romance and one pair of yellow stockings…welcome to Orsino’s court and the zany world of Twelfth Night


CAST & CREW LIST
Original Music J.C. Long
Director Drew Reeves
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Lighting Designer Matt Felten
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Viola Veronika Duerr
Sir Toby Belch Nicholas Faircloth
Valentine/1st Officer Stephen Hanthorn
Orsino Andrew Houchins
Feste/Musician J.C. Long
Priest/2nd Officer Vinnie Mascola
Sailor/Fabian Brian Mayberry
Malvolio/Sailor Jeff McKerley
Maria Kati Grace Morton
Sir Andrew Aguecheek/Musician Matt Nitchie
Curio/Antonio Daniel Parvis
Olivia Mary Russell
Sailor/Sebastian David Sterritt
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REVIEWS

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Stopping By Illyria on a Snowy Evening
by Dedalus
Saturday, January 29, 2011
4.0
(With apologies to Robert Frost)

What land this is I think I know.
Oft-times before I’ve seen this show;
And yet again I’m stopping here
Despite the threat of heavy snow.

It is Illyria we’re near
To witness loves and riots dear
With laughter oft our bellies quake
And threaten violence to our beer.

It gives my weary mind a shake
To try to tally some mistake.
My quibbles from my pen will creep
Whene’er homeward wend I make.

The highway’s icy, dark and deep.
But I have mem’ries to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Granted, I can’t cram all my thoughts of this production into a pastiche of Frost’s sixteen terse and frosty verses. So I’ll ask, “Was ‘Twelfth Night’ worth the two-hour homeward crawl through Sunday’s snow?”

You betcha!

True, my quibbles will rank this a step below Georgia Shakespeare’s wonderful Illyria sojourn from a few years ago, but what of that? This is still “Twelfth Night,” one of my favorite plays of the canon, and there is so much that is right and surprising here that my quibbles seem hollow indeed.

Let’s nitpick quickly and get on with the good stuff. To start, Nicholas Faircloth is far too young and laid back to meet my expectations of Sir Toby Belch. But, like his equally underplayed Bottom from last summer, this Sir Toby grew on me, and before long, I was enjoying his antics and his original portrait of a character who too often steals the play. Andrew Houchins goes against his usual style and underplays Orsino a tad more than is comfortable, making the Count almost disappear from the scenes he mopes through (would it be too much to ask for a little rueful recognition of his own ridiculousness?). On the other hand, Jeff McKerley takes Malvolio so far over the top that traces of the character go completely missing. Yes, he was funny, often making me laugh out loud. But was he Malvolio? Perhaps enough to sustain my enjoyment of the production, but not enough to feel any sympathy for his humiliation.

Now that all that is behind us, let’s talk about Veronika Duerr’s Viola/Cesario. This is her play from beginning to end, and she gives this character so much range, so much appeal, that she made me forget all the wonderful Violas I’ve seen in the past. She is heartful in her “wooing” of Orsino, desperate in her “being wooed” by Olivia, heartbreaking in her reunion with Sebastian, hysterically funny in her “battle” with Sir Andrew, and witty and intelligent and compelling throughout. As usual, her disguise wouldn’t have fooled a blind man (always a nice comment on how easily surface appearances take root), but, in this production, Sebastian (David Sterritt) is played so fey, so effeminate, that the confusion of the two is unusually credible. If it’s sometimes difficult to accept Ms. Duerr as a male, would it be cruel of me to say the same thing about Mr. Sterritt?

Another standout is J.C. Long’s full-voiced Feste, who’s “Wind and Rain” number ends the play on a paradoxically festive, yet whimsically somber note. (Mr. Long, along with Bo Ketchin, composed all the wonderful original music for the show). Kudos also to Matt Nitchie’s fop-without-a-clue Sir Andrew, and Kati Grace Morton’s surprisingly young and clever Maria. In general, the ensemble worked together like a well-oiled machine, and made this return to Illyria a pleasant and memorable sojourn. Although there were few cuts, and the play clocks in at almost three hours, director Drew Reeves, keeps the pace quick, the emotions and moods wide-ranging, and the stories always compelling.

So, let me end this review with the same (slightly rewritten) paraphrase with which I ended my last “Twelfth Night” comments:

If Shakespeare be the food of life, play on;
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,
Our humor may quicken and so fly.
This play again! It has a soaring grace;
O, it comes o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Lifting and giving color. More! Much more!
‘Tis much more sweet now than it was before.
O spirit of life, how quick and fresh art thou,
That notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, all enters there,
Of such validity and pitch that e’er
Our burdens fall like dark forgotten dreams
That fade like smoke. So full of shapes is this,
That quibbles fade like snow into the night.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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A 'Night' to remember
by Lady Mac
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
4.0
Disguises, cross-dressing and confusion are standard fare for Shakespeare’s comedies, but a strong leading lady is somewhat less common. “Twelfth Night” is one of those that puts the spotlight squarely on a woman, and that works to excellent advantage in this production, in which Veronika Duerr shines as Viola/Cessario.

A possible downside to having seen many productions of this play – including many at the Shakespeare Tavern – is that it’s sometimes a little difficult to shake the “ghosts” of past excellent performances and to avoid making comparisons. That was the case, to some degree, with a few of the characters in this production, but not with Viola/Cessario. Duerr, though a little difficult to believe as a boy, makes the role her own and does a great job at both the sentimental moments (mourning a brother, tearful reunion with the not-dead brother, expressing deep love – anonymously – for her “master”) and the comedic moments (particularly Cessario’s reluctance – to put it mildly – to duel Sir Andrew). There is no “Twelfth Night” if there is no skilled actress in the Viola/Cessario role; no worries about that in this staging!

Other standout performances came in less-expected roles. Sir Andrew Aguecheek has a few memorable moments and lines in the play but usually isn’t considered one of the highlights. Matt Nitchie changes that. Nitchie is increasingly fearless when it comes to physical comedy (perhaps the minidress and feather fan in “Hamlet: The Musical” were a sign), and he is fantastic in this one. His early scenes didn’t seem to bode that way, as Sir Andrew starts out kind of mumbly and sulky (part of an overall gloomy feel that I’ll discuss in a minute), but he blossoms as the play goes on and steals nearly every scene in which he appears. His dance moves alone are a sight to behold. It is a wonder that he doesn’t pull a hamstring.

Andrew Houchins also is impressive as Orsino, the spurned lover and object of his “servant’s” affection. Houchins, usually cast in bitter and/or funny and/or loud roles, probably doesn’t leap to mind for a romantic leading man, but he was utterly charming as Orsino. Orsino’s pouty outburst toward the end (“if I can’t have you, nobody else can, either!”) was a little reminiscent of some of these other angry/bitter/loud roles, but overall he is playing someone refreshingly different, and he makes it easy to believe that Viola would fall for him (if not easy to believe that she’d agree to let him kill her, but that is never believable – sorry).

One other extremely minor role – so minor, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure from the cast list what the character’s name is (Valentine, maybe?) -- deserves a special mention. In almost no stage time and very few lines, Orsino’s other servant does a remarkable (and funny) job of conveying his jealousy of the new apple of the master’s eye. Just a few snide remarks and snarly glances got the message across and were a very entertaining nuance.

I did have a few quibbles, both about the production and about some performances. The mood of the play seemed a little too dark, especially in the beginning. Yes, everyone is bummed out (brothers’ deaths, rejection by one’s beloved, etc.), but it still seemed a little too moody to make anyone laugh much – more so than any “Twelfth Night” I’ve seen before. For a while, it seemed that all of the characters were reluctant to be there. Several of Shakespeare’s tragedies have been presented at the Tavern with less overriding malaise than this comedy begins with. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is, but, thankfully, the gloom lightened up some as the play progressed.

Also, some of the actors do a great overall job but hit some snags at places. Mary Russell is wonderful, especially in her early sad scene with the jester and her first encounter with Cessario, but the occasional shouting bouts when she develops a severe case of lovesickness seemed a little out of character and manic. Jeff McKerley gets a lot of laughs as Malvolio, but some of it seems slightly over-the-top; he is really perfect, actually, in the more serious scenes after the prank on him takes a bad turn. While he is a fine drunken lout as Sir Toby Belch, Nicholas Faircloth seems too young and fresh-faced to be the longtime thorn in his niece’s side. Sure, people have uncles who are not much, if any, older than they are, but it is a little jarring in this context. It’s not Faircloth’s fault that he is not older, of course, but it’s an unusual casting decision. Daniel Parvis does a flawless and refreshingly innuendo-free (compared with some previous performances of the same role) job as Antonio; my objection is that he is reduced to practically a cameo and woefully underused. It would have been an improvement if he had been cast instead as Sebastian and given a bit more to work with (which actually was how I initially thought it was cast when the two characters arrived on stage).

I will close this review on a high note, much as the play itself closes, by pointing out two big highlights:

(1) The lighting. I will be the first to admit that I almost never notice anything about lighting. But there were a few moments in this production that were lit so brilliantly that a non-lighting expert like me couldn’t help but notice. The scene with “mad” imprisoned Malvolio was especially impressive; you could see the actors in shadow, just enough to get what they were doing and their expressions, but not so much to detract from the dungeon-like atmosphere. It was really lovely.

(2) The final song by Feste the jester, which ends the play, was magical. It is the best I ever have seen that done, and it did much to erase any misgivings about anything else in the play and to leave a beautiful, positive last impression. It is helpful that J.C. Long is a gifted singer, but that alone didn’t do it. It was a combination of the song, the singer, the two guitarists (Nitchie and Parvis) to the right and left of the stage, the brief return of the play’s couples to illustrate the appropriate verse of the song, and (again) the lighting. Very moving.

Overall, going to see “Twelfth Night” is a good way to spend any night.
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