note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Orsino, Duke of Illyria … Greg Steres
Viola, sister to Sebastian … Sarah Newhouse
Sea Captain, friend to Viola … John Porell
Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s kinsman … Michael Balcanoff
Maria, Olivia’s waiting gentlewoman … Bobbie Steinbach
Sir Andrew Aguecheek … Michael F. Walker
Feste, Olivia’s jester … Kenny Raskin
Olivia, a countess … Marya Lowry
Malvolio, Olivia’s steward … Ken Cheeseman
Antonio, a sea captain, Sebastian’s friend … John Porell
Sebastian, brother to Viola … John Kuntz
Priest … John Porell
Fabian … Lisa Kleinman
Ensemble … Tala Ashrafi; Hannah Husband; Lisa Kleinman; Kate Ociepka
Understudy … Leah Ludwig
Cellist … Yuan Zhang
Pianist … Robin Cho
Pianist … Natasha Collette
“Some people are born to lift heavy weights. Some are born to juggle with golden balls.” --- Max Beerbohm.
Just about everything in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s TWELFTH NIGHT clicks right down to the frosty, clear weather that adds the right festive touch to the evening’s fun. Having attended all of the ASP’s productions save for its JULIUS CAESAR, I can safely say that this current offering --- gift, really --- easily outshines all previous efforts. The Comedies may prove to be the ASP’s strength: there are some good, solid clowns in the company and the Comedies offer wonderful opportunities for individual turns so what else can go better hand-in-hand with these soloists?
TWELFTH NIGHT, as you will remember, revolves around Viola, separated at sea from her twin brother Sebastian and now posing as the youth “Cesario” in attendance upon the Duke Orsino. Orsino loves the lady Olivia who mourns the loss of her own beloved brother; the Duke sends Cesario to plead his suit only to have Olivia fall for what she thinks is an eloquent eunuch (!) --- Viola, in turn, loves Orsino who for all his mooning over Olivia is not unaware of Cesario’s own charms. (What’s a girl/boy to do?) Sebastian arrives upon the scene, not at all drowned, and he and Viola are repeatedly mistaken for each other until two sets of lovers are properly paired off; the low comedy is provided by Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, always in his cups, and other members of her household who take delight in gulling the pompous steward Malvolio. (Would Orsino and Olivia really live happily ever after with their choices? Should a man find himself attracted to a boy how would he feel when said boy becomes a girl, and should a woman fall for a eunuch would she think otherwise when wed to a look-alike but with all the parts in place? But close scrutiny only rends the gossamer: TWELFTH NIGHT works best as a fairytale spin on various kinds of love, laced with Indian-summer poetry penned just before the dark of Shakespeare’s winter….)
If there be a hall with a staircase and balcony in the Boston area, chances are the ASP will stage some Shakespeare, there. The staircases can make for very long exits but the three-dimensionalities free up the action so important to Shakespearean pace and flow. TWELFTH NIGHT plays in the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center in a high-ceilinged yet intimate Byzantine room lit in softly-glowing gels along the upper level; Robert Walsh’s direction is crisp and witty and he freshens up all of the low-comedy moments though the clowns eavesdropping on Malvolio is (traditionally?) staged with their flopping about practically under his nose and Mr. Walsh’s interpretation of Olivia is not that of a grieving woman being coaxed out of Death’s shadows by the magic of love but, rather, a poseur in black reduced to wild-eyed lust for a eunuch (again, !). (The costumes fall somewhere along Edwardian lines.)
Much of the ensemble, having thrown off Melpomene’s burdens, now sprint through Thalia’s landscape with infectious glee, bolstered by some new clowns added to the merriment. As with her recent Cordelia, Sarah Newhouse is not one of Nature’s Violas --- she remains a hard, unsmiling presence --- yet her heroine is oddly endearing for being so humorless; a Chaplinesque sober-sides trying to decipher the joke of which she is always the center. Not surprisingly, John Kuntz was cast as Sebastian, being the closest to Ms. Newhouse in build and coloring; one has to merely place Mr. Kuntz beside, say, Lewis D. Wheeler (Boston’s current Young Man) to reveal his stage-malevolence being held in check while posing as a juvenile; such constant checks in turn render his performance neutral, though I will say that Mr. Kuntz is the only one in the company whom I can see playing Hamlet. Greg Steres contributes a saturnine Orsino straight out of O’Neill with some startling insights (does he really mean to sacrifice Cesario in revenge for being spurned?) but he caresses the Duke’s lines, throughout, purringly (Claudius, anyone?), and Marya Lowry is predictably in golden voice as Olivia despite the above-described interpretation (Gertrude, anyone?). Ken Cheeseman and Michael F. Walker now come into their own; Comedy, not Tragedy, is clearly their meat --- Mr. Cheeseman is enjoyably grotesque as a Malvolio of Dickensian dimensions and Mr. Walker plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek as a slow-talking but superbly-timed gooseberry (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, anyone?). Bobbie Steinbach has been coasting for some time now and her Maria is more of the same; she needs to be challenged to Do rather than to Be as those who witnessed her magnificent Arshauluis Sarkisian in A GIRL’S WAR will agree. Kenny Raskin, a former lead clown with the Cirque du Soleil, strolls through the role of Feste as an amiable uncle obliging with yet another magic trick, but Michael Balcanoff does the impossible with Sir Toby Belch --- he makes the character entertaining, for once. John Porell is both good and burly in three minor roles, one of them Antonio whose Elizabethan love for Sebastian is played at modern-day value. The rich, somber selections for piano and cello are most welcome after the saws and groans heard throughout KING LEAR.
Overall, a delightful evening, this TWELFTH NIGHT --- be it fluke or herald? The next ASP production will be ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, another of the Bard’s Problem Comedies; the company is bound to dive down once again but, hopefully, will remember their way back to sunnier waters where they have proved to be quite at home.