Monday, November 12, 2012

Tights, fights, and very funny sights

Twelfth Night at Lakewood Playhouse
reviewed by Michael Dresdner
reprinted with permission from Michael Dresdner's blog

It’s challenging to make a Shakespearean comedy as genuinely funny to modern audiences as it was meant to be, but thanks to an absolutely stellar cast under the excellent direction of Rachel Fitzgerald, Lakewood Playhouse has done it. Twelfth Night is a gem; a fast-paced, delightfully hilarious romp.
Left to right: Clifford Peddicord, Russ Coffey, Brittany D. Henderson 

There’s a plot, of course, which is as convoluted as you can imagine and loaded with characters, too numerous to mention, who help connect the dots. Fortunately, the plot does not get in the way of the real hilarity, most of which comes from sub-plots and irrelevant hijinks. Here’s a relatively brief overview.
Viola (Maggie Lofquist) lands on Illyria convinced her twin brother Sebastian (Alex Smith) has died in a shipwreck. She dresses as a man named Cesario to get employment with Duke Orsino (Mason Quinn), and soon falls in love with him. But the Duke is in love with Olivia (Angelica Duncan), who won’t have him. She instead falls for Viola/Cesario, who is acting as the Duke’s messenger, thus creating an interesting love triangle. However, the Duke also has what he sees as an unexplainable homosexual attraction to his new servant Cesario.
Eventually, a very alive Sebastian, who likewise believes his sister is dead, shows up with his friend and protector Antonia (Kait Mahoney.) While she gets arrested for prior offenses, he meets Olivia, who mistakes him for his cross-dressing twin Viola/Cesario. She pours out her love to him and he marries her on the spot, conveniently ignoring the fact that she calls him by the wrong name.
Meanwhile, lots of other shenanigans are going on in the household of the high born Olivia. Anchoring the hilarity are two screamingly funny drunken reprobates; Olivia’s brash, besotted uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Clifford Peddicord), and his clueless, clumsy sidekick, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Russ Coffey). Aiding and abetting them are their female counterparts, Maria (Deya Ozburn) and Fabian (Brittany D. Henderson.) Granted, women of the time had to be more restrained, and less inebriated, but they do a wonderfully nuanced job of keeping up their end of the craziness. Whenever these four outstanding actors come on stage you are in for a rollickingly delightful time.
In fact, the only one who could edge them out for “steal the show” credits is their chief victim, Olivia’s pompous, stuffy steward Malvolio (Ian Lamberton). The comic gang of four convince him Olivia will fall for him if he acts and dresses as a complete fool. They get him incarcerated and coax the town’s troubadour/fool Feste (Steve Tarry) to taunt him while captive. Lamberton plays Malvolio way over the top, and it is absolutely hilarious, creating far and away the best and funniest Malvolio I’ve ever seen.   
There are a few more side plots, but eventually, Antonia and Malvolio get released from their separate incarcerations, and both go off in a huff. Sebastian and Viola discover each other alive, which allows the latter to reveal her true gender. She agrees to marry the Duke, who finally understands his strong affection for this “man” he’s been calling Cesario. Olivia discovers her husband’s real name and his connection to Viola/Cesario, and in what must create the ultimate troublemaking couple, Sir Toby marries Maria.  
Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and there was one thing that rankled a bit. The director switched the male character Antonio to a female Antonia. The heterosexual Sebastian is supposed to be confused and repulsed by Antonio’s homosexual advances, but that reads differently when they come from a stunningly beautiful Antonia.  
Aiding the cast was a very adept support group. Blake York provided a simple and appropriate set, beautifully painted by Jen Ankrum and crew. Alex Smith (Sebastian in the cast) handled sound and Brett Carr designed lighting. Costumes by Marcie Haggerman were certainly interesting and attractive, though not always consistently in period, and sometimes marred by expansion panels in the back. Still, that’s the challenge of dressing a large cast with many changes in community theatre.
Admittedly, Shakespeare continues to scare some away. “It’s the language,” they say. “I won’t understand Elizabethan jargon.” Thanks to adroit directing and very skilled acting, you don’t need to worry about that. Through exaggerated body movement, facial contortions, and very expressive vocal work, all the actors make it abundantly clear what is being said. As one of the cast assures you in her blog, “We are doing the work FOR you.”
That said, go, and go fearlessly, to see Twelfth Night at Lakewood Playhouse. You’ll be treated to a top-to-bottom outstanding cast, an excellent, fast-paced production, and an evening of guaranteed laughter.  
Twelfth Night
Nov. 9 to Dec. 2, 2012
Lakewood Playhouse

No comments: