Saturday, October 10, 2009

Twelfth Night

TWELFTH NIGHT farce for the sake of farce at GLTF

Charles Fee, the Director of ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ now playing in repertory at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, loves farce. He appears to see almost any play as a palate on which to paint brightly colored visual images in hysterical poses. Up to his usual tricks, he has staged Shakespeare’s play about mistaken identities and love with an eye toward laughs. And, since the script is slight on realism and message, his vision works.

Shakespeare wrote the script in either 1600 or 1601, supposedly as entertainment for the Christmas season. (Twelfth night, is the last night of the holiday season.) It was the last of his so-called "mature comedies." The others were ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ and ‘AS YOU LIKE IT.’ Like most of his comedies ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ celebrates romantic love and contains many of the devices found in other Elizabethan romantic comedies such as separated twins and gender-crossing disguises.

The story centers on Viola, who is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, a mythical Mediterranean coastal area with Turkish and Persian flavor. Viola loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, believing he has drowned. She masquerades as Cesario, a young male page, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose father and brother have recently died. His love is not returned. Orsino decides to use Cesario as an intermediary. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with him (her). Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man, and who regards him (her) as his confidant. (Getting confused? Actually, on stage it’s easy to follow.)

Adding extreme humor to the goings-on is a comic subplot involving Olivia's heavy drinking uncle Sir Toby Belch, her servants Maria and Fabian, her steward Malvolio, her suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and, the fool Feste.

Fee’s directing, as is his custom, often goes over the top. This is much to the delight of the audience, who, on opening night convulsed with laughter every time there was a pratfall, overdone characterization or three-stooges type exaggeration.

Andrew May is fun incarnate as Toby. Ian Gould, complete with his clownish white make-up, is delightful as Aguecheek. Eduardo Placer sings well and taunts with ease as the jester, Feste. Laura Perrotta manipulates with glee as Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria. David Anthony Smith is the perfect foil as the pathetic love struck Malvolio.

Sara Bruner carries off the role of Viola with charm, while Jodi Dominick is generally effective as Olivia, though at times her characterization wavers. The rest of cast nicely fulfills Fee’s directing philosophy.

Choreographer Helene Peterson and Fight Coordinator Ken Merckx add a nice tone with their contributions. Gage Williams’ set design creates the right Moorish image.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like your Shakespearean comedies smothered with outlandish farce, you’ll enjoy yourself at GLTF’s TWELFTH NIGHT.