1/19/2020 TWELFTH NIGHT New American Shakespeare Tavern
STOPPING BY ILLYRIA ON A SUNDAY EVENING
(With apologies to Robert Frost)
What land will this tale enfold;
Oft-times before I’ve seen this show;
And yet again I’m stopping here
Despite the threat of fusty cold.
It is Illyria we’re near
To witness loves and riots dear
With laughter oft our bellies quake
And threaten violence to our beer.
It gives my weary mind a shake
To try to tally some mistake.
My quibbles from my pen may creep
Whene’er homeward wend I make.
The highway’s long and dark and deep.
But I have mem’ries to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Granted, I can’t cram all my thoughts of this production into a pastiche of Frost’s sixteen terse and frosty verses. So I’ll ask, “Was Twelfth Night worth the long(ish) homeward crawl to my new abode?”
I have oft writ of this play, and always try to make time for a new staging, and, in truth, I am very rarely disappointed. My last trip to the Shakespeare Tavern’s Illyria was way back in 2011, during which the heavens dumped a ton of snow on Not-Then-Hotlanta, hence my Frost pastiche above. Okay, we’re living in a post-snow era now (mostly), but it is no less a journey, the Tavern’s warmth and conviviality a beacon of welcome to brighten a cold weekend. (Did they change their recipes to make the King’s Sandwich and Potato Salad too spicy? Asking for a friend.)
So, once more unto the Twelfth Night breach. What is different, what is “less than,” what is new, what is old, what is “never gets old?” I suppose I could get into a pedantic (and pretentious) analysis of what worked better or not-so-better this time around, but, truth to tell, my memory is ragged, and, despite knowing this play, these characters better with each passing year, specifics of past productions have faded and drifted away with my prime.
Which is to say, it’s like seeing the play for the first time. Again. So, please be patient and indulge me as I summarize, something I have rarely done with this particular work.
Beginning with a song, a storm, a shipwreck, we’re very elegantly cast upon the Illyrian shore with Viola, newly mourning her lost twin brother, vowing to make her way in a man’s world, even to the point of dressing as a man, Cesario, soon to be servant to the Count Orsino, he of the lovelorn sighs and manly physique. Viola’s heart is soon enrapt and wrapped like a trussed hart.
But Orsino’s heart is set on Olivia, proud Countess, Olivia who has forsworn the company of men, as she mourns her own lost brother. Orsino engages Cesario (which is to say Viola) to act as liaison, carrying his purple prose to the indifferent Countess, Olivia who finds the sight of Cesario most pleasing indeed (dare I say arousing?).
Meanwhile, Olivia’s cousin, Sir Toby Belch revels in her house with his foppish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s maid Maria, and the house jester Feste to the scorn of Malvolio, a sneering prig of a steward (who no doubt wears his chain of office even to bathe, if ever dirt would deign to pollute his perfect self).
Did I happen to mention that Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, also survived the shipwreck, and is wandering the ways of Illyria, in the company of Antonio, a pirate who saved him from the deadly seas and who likes him perhaps too much? Did I happen to mention that Sebastian and Cesario are dressed identically, and look remarkably alike? Do I need to mention the Comedy of Errors that ensues as plots, seductions, and japes are hatched?
I daresay, I do not.
Rachel Frawley plays Viola/Cesario with sass and cheek and skill, easily winning our hears even as she captures Orsino’s affection and Olivia’s lust. Marlon Burnley fills a fine figure of an Orsino, worthy of Viola’s loyalty, affection, and ultimately, devotion. India Tyree casts us all in her spell as Olivia, quick to anger, quick to love, quick to forgive, quick to grab Cesario in places that are #MeToo-unfriendly.
Jacob York is a gem as Malvolio, his affected mannerisms and patterns of speech spinning comic gold (just how many disdainful syllables does he give the word “boy?”). David Weber’s Sir Toby, Avery Shape’s Sir Andrew, and Megan Rose’s Maria are all perfect foils and exuberant sybarites driving the comic subplot with sensuous joy. And Matt Nitchie is a lyrically profound Feste, filling the stage with music and wit. And Adam King manages to give Fabian, who usually disappears in the shadow of the more prominent clowns, a force and personality that raises him to their level.
Directed by the always skillful Jaclyn Hoffman, the cast slips easily into the Tavern’s interactive style, using the audience as focus, as foils, as fools. The pace remains rapid even as the length stretches into the night and the two-level traditional stage is used to perfection.
Kudos also need be paid to the fight choreography of Kristin Storla in the climactic “battle” between Sir Andrew and Cesario. Ms. Frawley and Mr. Sharpe are inept and clumsy, and Ms. Storla’s work keeps them safe and hysterically funny.
So, let me end this review with the same paraphrase with which I have ended so many Twelfth Night comments:
If Shakespeare be the food of life, play on;
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,
Our humor may quicken and so fly.
This play again! It has a soaring grace;
O, it comes o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Lifting and giving color. More! Much more!
‘Tis much more sweet now than it was before.
O spirit of life, how quick and fresh art thou,
That notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, all enters there,
Of such validity and pitch that e’er
Our burdens fall like dark forgotten dreams
That fade like smoke. So full of shapes is this,
That quibbles fade like frost into the night.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #ShakespeareTavern #12thNight)