TWELFTH NIGHTBy William Shakespeare
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Jason & Lauren Morgan
Stage Manager and Props - Nicole Bowen
Technical Director - Logan Ball
Lighting Design - Logan Ball
Costume Design - Lauren Morgan
Viola/Cesario - Kristin Payne
Olivia - Morgan Laure Garrett
Maria - Laura Jones
Sir Toby Belch - Brad DeBorde
Sir Andrew Aguecheek - Billy Betsill
Malvolio - Allen Walker
Feste the Fool - Kirk Corley
Duke Orsino - Thomas Fletcher
Sebastian - Michael Reed
Antonio - Robert Shores
Officer - Logan Ball
Officer/Valentine - Jason Morgan
Captain & Priest - Steve Lindsay
Reviewed Performance: 2/10/2012
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
So begins Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare. Arguably his best comedy, this play reveals themes of love and suffering, gender confusion, and the consequences of ambition, all great themes of comedy.
Duke Orsino loves Olivia, a noblewoman in Illyria who pines for her dead brother. Viola converts herself into a young boy named Cesario and helps Orsino court Olivia. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, but Viola loves Orsino. Malvolio, Olivia's head steward, is duped by her servant and house guests to believe Olivia loves him. Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, looking a lot like Cesario, arrives and marries Olivia.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild unravels this story, proving that Shakespeare is made to be seen, not read.
The all-in-one set, designed by Logan Ball and Jason Morgan, required no physical change between scenes. Changes were made with lighting shifts and acting locations. This happened flawlessly and created a smooth story flow and perfect comedic pace. Given that Illyria is by the sea, sound effects were minimal with waves and sea gulls and occasional music. Costumes designed by Lauren Morgan were consistent with characters who might live in a place like Illyria. Nicole Bowen created simple props and added touches of scene decor with effective attention to details. The result was a setting and atmosphere that allowed the text to be delivered without distraction. Kudos to Jason and Lauren Morgan for unifying the cast and crew to a single goal of telling this story.
Text delivery is crucial to Shakespeare. The language is arcane so actors must deliver lines clearly to allow audiences to skip words they can't understand and get context through action. Stolen Shakespeare Guild wants "to debunk the myth that Shakespeare and other forms of theatre are inaccessible to the modern audience." Twelfth Night flowed smoothly and this audience was caught up in the entertaining story.
Duke Orsino, played by Thomas Fletcher, created an example of officialdom overwrought by his need for love. His entreaties to Cesario to romantically deliver his courtship to Olivia set up the inevitable reactions in Olivia towards Cesario. I would liked to have seen Orsino deliver these lines to Cesario more romantically, as these are what makes Viola love Orsino.
Morgan Laure Garrett played Olivia initially as one might expect of a mourner, but as she became more infatuated with Cesario she changed into a desperate, love-hungry hawk aggressively chasing her quarry. Eventually she won her man.
Viola and Cesario, played by Kristin Payne, created two parallel characters. She tried to maintain her own identity as Viola while desperately keeping her disguise as Cesario, the confident messenger of Orsino. At the same time, she resisted the advances of Olivia while searching for opportunities to make Orsino notice her. Payne walked this line skillfully and was a joy to watch.
Sebastian, played by Michael Reed, survived the shipwreck and arrived in Illyria looking like Cesario. He had similar height and coloring and, though clearly not a twin, could be mistaken for Cesario in this fantastical world. His arrival created more confusion which quickened the pace towards climax. He found himself in fights he did not start and a romance he did not expect. He, of course, fell for the beautiful Olivia immediately which drove the final climax.
Alan Walker, as Malvolio, created a marvelously multi-layered character who tried to maintain his high ideals but fell easily into the trap of ambition set by Maria, Toby and Andrew. He displayed arrogance, hurt, resentment and revenge and revealed Shakespeare's message about the perils of ambition.
Maria, Olivia's servant, played with comic sensitivity by Laura Jones, showed her playful, sexy side and a mischievous side when she engineered the plot to fool Malvolio. Sir Toby Belch, played by Brad DeBorde, lived up to his name, helping Maria and providing some of the funniest bits of this play. Billy Betsill as Sir Andrew Aguecheek showed a refreshing mix of false-bravado and childish terror. Robert Shores played Antonio, savior of Sebastian, by mixing his love for Sebastian with fear for his own life, because of previous battles against Orsino. Steve Lindsay played the ship captain who saved Viola and the priest who married Olivia and Sebastian. And Jason Morgan and Logan Ball mixed design duties with important bit parts in the story.
Twelfth Night is a comedy and these actors delivered it. The actors who perpetrate the subplot, Maria, Toby and Andrew, performed hysterical drunken scenes with laugh-out-loud action that led the hapless Malvolio into their trap. Later, Sir Andrew grew jealous of Cesario's "love" for Olivia and was baited into challenging the reluctant Cesario to a sword fight, leading to an hilarious Shakespearean fight scene and later beatings by Sebastian.
Shakespearean fools provide a voice of reason and ideas which the main characters can't say. Feste, the fool for both Orsino and Olivia, challenges assumptions, bridges different plots, and explains themes with songs. Kirk Corley played this role with a sense of balance and levity. He had a good voice and simple guitar style that made the songs important pieces of the story.
All of these actors delivered Shakespeare's lines with understandable diction mixed with boisterous action, making Twelfth Night entertaining and insightful. This met the Stolen Shakespeare mission and revealed the strong vision of Jason and Lauren Morgan.
"Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." This quote has become a favorite of the motivation industry without realizing its part in a ruse to defraud a man of dignity. However Stolen Shakespeare Guild fits this quote nicely. They have taken on themselves to present well-done Shakespeare in DFW and accepted the challenge to keep the Bard alive.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center in the Sanders Theatre
1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through February 19th