TWELFTH NIGHTby William Shakespeare
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Adapted and directed by Lauren and Jason Morgan
Stage Manager - Madeline Ruth
Scenic Design - Lauren Morgan
Sound Design - Lauren Morgan and Jennifer Stewart
Lighting Design - Bryan Douglas
Set Design - Jason Morgan
Costume Design - Lauren Morgan
Properties Design - Jennifer Stewart
Viola - Meagan Harris +
Orsino - Doak Rapp +
Olivia - Laura Smith
Dame Toby Belch - Tiana Shuntae Alexander
Malvolio - Blair Mitchell +
Mario - Ryan Crotty +
Sir Andrew - Jacob Harris +
Antonia - Karen Matheny *
Sebastian - Brad Baker +
Captain/Priest - Delmar H Dolbier *+
2nd Officer - Al Mayo
Valentine/First Guard - Brandon Wimmer +
Feste - Terry Yates +
* Member of SSG Ensemble
+ Also appearing in "The Tempest"
Reviewed Performance: 2/10/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Twelfth Night in a nutshell as offered by shakespeare.org.uk;
Viola thinks her brother is dead.
He thinks that she is dead.
Everyone thinks that she is her brother.
Everyone thinks that her brother is her.
The show opens with the story of twins Viola and Sebastian involved in a shipwreck where Viola is saved and we're not sure what happened to Sebastian. Viola ends up in Illyria, a coastal town ruled by Duke Orsino who is in love with Countess Olivia who refuses to be courted by anybody for seven years to mourn the death of her brother. A bit drastic, yes, but it suits the plot. Viola mourns the loss of her twin brother in the shipwreck for far less time, and ultimately decides to make it on her own by dressing as a boy to land a position in the house of Duke Orsino.
Orsino gets the bright idea to send Cesario (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia for him. She doesn't want to as she fell in love at first sight with Orsino. But she does, and Olivia tells (him) to tell Orsino to bug off mainly because she is now attracted to Viola whom she thinks is the young man, Cesario. Thus, a love triangle arises between Orsino, Viola/Cesario, and Olivia. Everything pretty much goes sideways when twin brother Sebastian arrives in Illyria after three months and begins the battle of mistaken identities.
The subplot, where most of the laughs come from, involve Olivia's servants playing a large prank on the butler of her house who has aspirations of winning his mistress' love and affection and Sir Andrew, a hapless bungling creature who is trying to woo Olivia as well.
Staging any of Shakespeare's work in modern times is always a challenge. How much gets cut? This is a play in five acts and can last more than three hours if performed in its entirety. Does it get updated, put into modern times? How big should the chorus be? Etc. Etc.
Lauren and Jason Morgan did a good job of telling the story within their 105 minute presentation. It plot was complete but some of the more memorable lines from the script were lost in the scenes that were cut. It did not damage the overall effect of the show and there is still plenty opportunity for the audience to enjoy the jokes in the play. Their direction was spot on for a Shakespeare comedy with the big entrances, asides to the audience and dramatic exits required in such a production and it made for a smooth and enjoyable evening.
As you walk into the theatre, you see the stage set off in three distinct areas and most all of it in grey and muted tones. This plays very well to both shows featured in this festival. The lighting design by Bryan Douglas further accentuates the composite set design of Jason Morgan. You may not initially realize the mountain and cave exist until they are used by the actors and that is a plus for Jason. Also as you walk in, you are greeted by the sound of coastal birds and water crashing on a not too distant beach. This more than anything else put me into a place of calm serenity and readied my brain to take in the entangled speech that is Shakespeare. Major kudos to Jennifer Stewart and co-director Lauren for creating a background of sound throughout the show that never interfered with and only added to what was happening on stage.
One thing that I look forward to with presentations of the Bard’s work is the costuming. Many times directors will choose a theme that is completely anachronistic to the Elizabethan Era in which the script was written. Many years ago I was surprised by a production of “Othello” that was done in modern military uniforms. It has become one of my all-time favorites. Lauren decided to play it straight with costuming from somewhere in the earlier Renaissance. Just one note on the lady's dresses. A Countess and Dame would have servants dressing them so their bodices would lace up the back, not the front.
It also appeared that the rapiers used were recycled. By that I mean in one scene, Mario might appear with a sword and the next scene he may not. But then Sebastian would appear on stage with a sword that looks very much like Mario’s. The inconsistency of characters finding and losing their swords between scenes bothered me a bit. The biggest prop faux pas was the western guitar sported by Feste. All this beautiful costume work and props and then suddenly, I’m in Cowtown with a western guitar with what looks to be an Indian beadwork design shoulder strap. What?! Seriously? Completely blew apart those scenes. Find a lute. For as much as Terry plays it, I’m sure he can find the chords on a lute as easily as the guitar.
Speaking of Terry Yates as the fool, Feste, I must say he gave a standout performance. His facial expressions and reactions were fully in line with his lines and his character. Definitely one of the bright spots of the show. He never over-acted his part and was always engaged in everything that was happening on stage.
Over-acting is part and parcel to Shakespearian comedies. That is not necessarily a bad thing because Shakespeare definitely wrote the comedies for the common man and who doesn’t like a good over-used pratfall? There isn’t a lot of call for sincerity in the characters in a comedy but I must say that Doak Rapp as Orsino brought just the right amount of true feeling and emotion to his part. Every time he was on stage, he commanded the attention of the audience and held their scrutiny with fidelity.
Jason and Lauren took some liberties with some of the casting. The uncle, Sir Toby, is now an aunt, Dame Toby and the pirate captain that rescued Sebastian in this production is female. Whether this was a conscious decision to blur gender bias or simply that they didn’t have the men available to perform these rolls I do not know. I really do not care either. Tiana Shuntae Alexander was a perfect drunken relative given to fun and mischief and played the part delightfully. Karen Matheny was a large and loud presence on stage and I was convinced that she could have very well been a pirate queen in the vein of the infamous Bonnie Anne.
Solid performances by Blair Mitchell as the lovestruck and ultimate butt-of- the-joke, Malvolio, Brad Baker as the twin brother who is very happy to meet Olivia though he is unsure why, Ryan Crotty and Delmar H Dolbier rounds out the cast led by Meagan Harris as Viola/Cesario.
Meagan is pretty as a woman, spunky as a boy, both wary and yearning as a lover as her duality plays out through the plot. She appears so secure in the knowledge of this role as to make me believe that she is Viola and she is trying to get away with something. A true pleasure to experience.
Perusing the showbill before curtain, I found that most of the cast has Shakespearian credits on their resumes and some have extensive backgrounds in Shakespeare. I was looking forward to this production. On the whole, the show was solid and enjoyable but there were rough spots that if removed could raise this from a ‘good’ to an ‘outstanding’ production. Laura Smith as Countess Olivia and Jacob Harris as her unwanted courter, Sir Andrew kept flubbing their lines… noticeably. Laura even broke character once or twice as she struggled to remember the order of her lines. Not something I would ever expect to see from Ms. Smith given that her performance in “Laura” was so outstanding. I am hoping this was simply jitters of some sort and will not rear its ugly head again during the run.
Twelfth Night is half of Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s “Lost at Sea” Festival. It will play in rotation with “The Tempest” throughout its run. If you are a fan of the Bard, you really need to experience SSG and these productions in the intimate black box that is the Sanders Theatre.
Friday/Saturday Evening Curtain 8:00
Weekend Matinee 2:00
Tickets $13 - $18