Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Director Tony Estrella breathes new life into Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", the final production of the URI theatre season. From the fantastic unit set to the gorgeous costumes to the perfect 18 member cast, this is a Shakespearean show the audience enjoys from the opening stormy shipwreck to the joyful finish with an added surprise at the close of the night. The 30 year old Estrella works his magic bringing the show into the 1930's making it one of the must see shows around.
The show is set in Illyria and is about the shipwrecked Viola who disguises herself as a man. She falls in love with her employer Count Orsino and the beautiful Olivia falls in love with Cesario who is Viola in disguise. Viola finds her long lost brother Sebastian and she and the other characters have many funny misadventures along the way. Tony directs this youthful cast with excellent timing and blocking and makes the scenes flow seamlessly. He creates many pictures with the cast making the scenes more memorable. Tony is not only a superb director, he is an excellent actor, too. The costumes and set design by David T. Howard are breathtaking. From the matching brother and sister powder blue soldier outfits to Olivia pink gown and wedding dress to the duke's red smoking jacket, all the costumes are made on the campus and are fabulous. The set consists of mahogany stairs for the Duke's palace, marble steps and a two story turntable set for Olivia with a dome and purple curtains plus a garden setting, too. The scrim in the background is lit by David Roy. The lighting effects include the storm with lightening, a full moon with stars and a blue sky with clouds as well as mood lighting for the initimate moments. A fantastic team effort shows how to pull off a show in a professional manner.
Seniors Joanna Lynn Beecher as Viola and Jeff Smith as Duke Orsino are united as a couple by show's end. Joanna does a wonderful job in this difficult man/woman role. She acts the part perfectly lowering her voice as the man and standing at attention to be masculine to fool everyone. Joanna is a pretty blonde who is at home in any type show whether it be comedy, musical or drama. Jeff is very forceful as the rich Duke ordering his servants around while trying to court Olivia not knowing his own true love worked for him all this time. Both Joanna and Jeff show many emotions in their roles making a strong acting duo.
Heidi Beckmann as the gorgeous Olivia and Max Kogod as Sebastian are the other couple who finally end up together at the close of the night. Heidi plays the strong willed Olivia very well and shows the transition to softening while falling in love with Cesario. When she mounts Viola on the park bench wrapping her legs around her is one of the funniest bits in the show. Heidi is only a junior but she is a standout actress already. Max plays the blond haired hero who wins Olivia's heart. He makes his character likeable but a force to be reckoned with at the same time. Only a sophmore Max has a bright future in theatre at URI.
The biggest scene stealer in the show and his crazy companions bring 12th Night the comic power it needs. Senior Anthony Luciano as Sir Toby Belch is a laugh riot from his first entrance to the closing dancing up the aisle with an audience member. Anthony makes this naughty bawdy man fantastic. He is constantly smoking, loves grabbing his crotch and drinks like a fish at the bar mixing drink after drink. Anthony has many funny moments including the hiding in the garden scene as a statue, behind a plant then a single fern as well as the sword fight and the blackeye scene. He is a wonderful comic and has a great future in show business. His cohorts in laughter are Mauro Canepa as the clumsy Sir Andrew who secretly loves Olivia,(his pratfalls and suitcase droppings and the bloody nose are super). The talented Jim Bray as Feste, the Fool who sings country western songs and is smarter than you think by collecting money from everyone he outwits (great job as the wandering idiot of Illyria).Keith Hanson as Fabian, the gardener who helps out Toby in his plans ( a huge and threatening presence on stage with a great speaking voice and plays a mean set of drums, too.) Betsy Eyring as Maria, Olivia's maid who controls the crazy household and the men by using her smarts to outwit the offensive Malvolio is another talented actress. ( the breast holding scene with Anthony and Mauro is hilarious.)
Alan Hawkridge plays the evil Malvolio who is mistreated by the comic cohorts in the show. His stuffy butler at first and later tricked into being a grinning suitor of Olivia who gets thrown in and locked up for being daft is right on the money. Alan is a faculty member and his interactions with the 17 students is natural and fitting his role. Sean Michael McConaghy as Antonio, the sea captain who rescues Sebastian is a strong character who gets to rough up the police when they try to arrest him. He has some good dramatic scenes with Max and the comic one when he is bopped in the head with rubber billyclubs saying ouch after each hit. The Duke's staff are played by Pamela Calci and Mariam Habib. The girls make the most of their time on stage by protecting and defending their employer from outsiders. Olivia's Lady played by Susan D'Orsi does the same thing for Olivia and has a funny scene when she intimidates Viola when she wants to speak to the lady of the house. Rounding out the cast is Benjamin Dawson as the captain who rescues Viola, Tina Marie Romano and Marc Pelina as the Keystone cop lie police officers (loved the rubber bats and their pratfalls when they got beat up by Antonio) and Adam Wasserman as the priest who marries Olivia and Sebastian and is called in to verify it for the Duke singing the answer in chant. Congratulations on a tremendous show to close out the URI theatre season. Looking forward to more great things in next season's productions!