Images courtesy of the Shakespeare Theater Company
The biggest complaint I have with STC’s production of Twelfth Night has nothing to do with the actual production they put on, so I’m going to just get it out of the way here and move on to praising them. Why in the name of all that’s holy wasn’t this the production they chose to do an all-male version of, rather than Romeo and Juliet? Here’s a story that contains gender-bending, and an (albeit brief) moment of a character confronted with the confusion of feeling romantic love for someone he believes to be his own gender. There’s interesting ground to cover there, as opposed to stunt casting that does little more than say “hey, check out how they used to do it four centuries ago!”
The only problem with that idea is that if I’d been at that production I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy this one. The actors are all excellent, the set is beautiful, and Director Rebecca Taichman manages a flow and rhythm that pulls you along enjoyably. There’s one odd choice in the second half that took me out of the moment a few times, but it comes and goes quickly enough. There’s only one aspect that stands out notably and delightfully so.
That is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Floyd King in the role of Feste, Olivia’s fool. I’m getting used to being delighted with King’s appearances on stage – he was possibly the brightest spot in The Way of the World – and I hope I’m allowed to settle into the habit. He delivers every sarcastic word with just the right amount of edge, but never goes over the top or takes the easy way out. In the first scene where we see him, he upbraids his mistress for her attachment to her grief, but the harsh words simultaneously are filled with love and affection for her.
The rest of the cast does a good job as well. Samantha Soule as Viola spends most of her time disguised as Cesario and makes it very clear why Orsino would love her. When Viola is amused her face shines, and when she’s carrying on with her duties despite the conflict she feels you can see how she could put one over on people… but we’re not fooled. It’s a quality balancing act. Ted van Griethuysen’s Malvolio makes you wish you could join the pranksters in taking him down a notch as well.
The magical realism that Taichman employs of having rose petals fall from the sky – and sometimes from the hands of cast members – is enjoyable and works well with the beautiful and minimal set. When Belch, Aquecheek, and Fabian sneak out from cover behind a huge painting of a rose and hide themselves by carrying smaller paintings it’s both a laugh and an effective device. Their movements and interaction with Malvolio as they set him up will be a joy for anyone who has every giggled at the Three Stooges.
The only odd bit was the way a few of the ensemble tango through the opening scenes in the second act. It doesn’t necessarily feel out of place, but there were no such little devices easing us between scenes in the first act, so it seems sudden. Why do we need these now when we didn’t before? The tango is also a sudden anachronism, and serving no purpose it’s jarring. By comparison, through the rest of the play the music meshes perfectly, whether it be for mood, singer Stacy Cabaj’s lovely voice, or as accompaniment to King’s several songs.
It’s an enjoyable production, and I recommend it.
Twelfth Night, directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman
Shakespeare Theater Company
12/2/2008 – 1/4/2009 at the Harman Theater
610 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004