Theatre Mirror Reviews - "12th Night"

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note: entire contents copyleft 2005 by Will Stackman


"12th Night"

Reviewed by Will Stackman

     The Actors' Shakespeare Project has gotten in the holiday spirit with a lively production of the Bard's most perfect comedy, "Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)." Tradition has it, and scholarship concurs, that this play was presented at court before the Queen at the end of the Christmas season, hence its title. Hotson further suggests that productions like this were not staged on a platform at one end of a great hall. Rather, with the court seated on one side of the room and the rest of the audience on the other, the show was played down the middle of the room with the doors at either end serving as entrances. Director Robert Walsh has staged this production with the audience seated on at either end of the hall with the acting area in the middle, with entrances on either side. He's also used the stairs up from the first floor and more importantly, the long flight up to the balcony around this gorgeous historic hall. Some of the action is played above so it pays to arrive early and get a seat with a good view of these areas.
     The evening starts, at 7:30 most nights, with some holiday fun and games, culminated by crowning a "Queen" of the evening, followed by a funeral procession which helps establish the situation of the play. Count Orsino, played by Greg Steres, does the famous "If music be the food of love..." speech next to musicians who provide live music during the show and winds up standing in one of the large windows above them. The center of the plot is of course Viola, who comes up the stairs from below, having landed here in Illyria after a shipwreck. This is a perfect role for Sarah Newhouse, seen earlier this fall as Cordelia with Alvin Epstein in "King Lear." She has the spunk to carry off this long breeches role and the skill to reveal her conflicted soul. She's in love with the Count who has her wooing Countess Olivia, played grandly by Marya Lowry, who falls in love with Viola disguised as "Cesario." The four member of this amorous confusion is Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, played by John Kuntz. He's also survived the shipwreck, though each believes the other drowned. In classic farcical style, each twin is mistaken for the other and each gets a mate--eventually. This plot is facilitated by John Porrell, who first plays the Sea Captain who brings Viola ashore, then shows up as Antonio, then another mariner who rescued Sebastian and is drawn to the boy. And, through the miracle of hurried costume change, Porrell also plays the priest who betroths Olivia and Sebastian. All these principals handle their verse with the company's expected facility and create believable characters from Shakespeare's templates.     "Twelfth Night" also has the most beloved collection of comic characters in the canon, starting with Feste, Olivia's family fool. He's played by guest star Kenny Raskin, a physical comedian with the necessary musical skills and a nice unpretentious style of line reading. The more clownish characters are in fact Sir Toby, played with panache by Michael Balcanoff, his gull, Sir Andrew, play by Michael F. Walker, in his best role for the company yet, and the strait-laced puritanical steward, Malvolio, played by angular Ken Cheesman, last seen as Lear's Fool this fall. They're all dealt with by Olivia's gentlewoman, Maria, played with her usual brio by Bobbie Steinbach. The remainder of the company are four decorative young ladies, who double as Orsino's retinue, Olivia's ladies, and the officers who arrest Antonio. Chief of these is Lisa Kleinman, who does Fabian, one of the conspirators in the comic plot against Malvolio. Dressed in somewhat Victorian garb, coordinated by Anna Ofek, the company plays as a tight ensemble, with everyone having a good time getting their share of the laughs. This show is a fine alternative to the usual holiday fare. It's full of good feeling.     Note that the normal start time is 7:30 and that parking can be adventurous in East Cambridge. The only T train currently running to Lechmere is the E, which should be switched to at Park St. The box office is on the ground floor on the 2nd St. side of the historical Bullfinch Courthouse, with an elevator going up to the theatre in the old Hall of Records on the main floor. The show runs through the actual 12th night of Christmas, with a gala on New Year's Eve. Happy New Year!!!


"12th Night" (15 December - 8 January)
ACTORS' SHAKESPEARE PROJECT
41 Second Street, CAMBRIDGE MA
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