Twelfth Night – Let’s Go for a Twin
A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS
There’s a famous line that opens Twelfth Night. Like, really, really famous. Famous enough that I want you to Google it if you don’t already know it (but you do). And I would have really liked hearing it delivered by the gorgeous, statuesque Aladrian Wetzel but alas! SOMEONE BEHIND ME WAS TALKING ON THEIR FUCKING CELL PHONE, LOUDLY AND IN RUSSIAN. Even after I shot her the stank eye, she continued. Finally, just as the opening scene was winding down, she decided to hang it up and pay attention. Is this seriously how people act at the theater? [Yes. – TBO] The answer and ensuing conversation on that one is probably a whole other article. [Yes. – TBO]
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is about a noblewoman named Olivia (Valerie Dowdle) who has more suitors than she knows what to do with, and who unluckily manages to fall in love with the hapless Cesario (Caitlin Carbone). See, Cesario is actually a woman named Viola in drag. After surviving a shipwreck and thinking her twin brother, Sebastian (Rena Marie) dead, she dresses as a guy to work for the Court of Orsino (Wetzel), a neighboring duke. Of course there is mistaken identity involving the twins. There also drunks, surly servants, and witty fools. It’s a farce, a romp through Illyria that ends, like most funny things, with a double wedding. Night was my first outdoor BSF production, and I learned that the intention here is to present the play as closely as possible to the staging conditions of Shakespeare’s time. That means lights, but no fancy lighting, a simple platform in the grass, and lots of eating, drinking, and audience interaction.
Crucially, as others at The Bad Oracle have noted in the past, this company makes the material accessible. Meaning that even those not schooled in Shakespeare will enjoy themselves and follow the story. Director Thomas Delise has the actors here bring it big, big hand gestures, big projection, big face. And bring it they do. Everyone in the cast is exceptionally talented. Wetzel commands authority with her height, intensity and frankly amazing voice. She brings fresh air to a oft stale role, which allows the audience to root for Orsino the way they should. Caitlin Carbone also just simply slays. Her facial expressions while in court next to Orsino are worth the price of admission. Everyone in the audience, EVEN CELL PHONE LADY, was laughing and snickering along with her. I am in often awe of Carbone’s repertoire, I have a feeling there isn’t any role she doesn’t seem born to play.
But really, I had something to enjoy in everyone. Valerie Dowdle’s Olivia strikes just right balance between saucy and stuck up. David Forrer as Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, is either actually drinking or nailed that drunk and swaying thang like a boss. Jessica Baher’s expressions and slapstick comedy as Fabian, Captain, and Priest are noteworthy. She throws herself at every role she plays. Cheryl Campo’s Maria, another servant, is the perfect trickster, laughing infectiously and slapping her knees throughout. Ishai Barnoy is a joy as the blonde-wig-clad, idiotic Sir Andrew Aquecheek (that wig is too fucking funny, it might need billing of its own). Jeff Miller as Olivia’s head servant, Malvolio, does his best upper crust contempt, while allowing a transition to a more approachable, sympathetic character by the end. Emily Sucher as the fast-talking fool Feste is perfect, down to her harlequin Ugg boots. Rena Marie is wonderful as the awe-struck Sebastian as is Tegan Williams, as rescuer Antonia, who loses her cool completely with all this nonsense, even with her hands literally tied.
Because of the minimal props and staging, Delise relies heavily on ornate, period costumes by April Forrer. They are opulent, for sure. They also look preeetttty hot on a steamy July evening. Shakespeare’s patrons would have been been familiar with pre and post-show musical selections, and the cast cracks us up with their songs. Although they all sing and play instruments-some of which I’ve never seen before, like this small keyboard thing with a hose? [It’s a melodica, cool!-TBO]-the highlight of hilarity is Jeff Miller’s lead on “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords. I snorted beer through my nose.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is to be commended for staying true to Shakespeare’s vision. Twelfth Night does just that while also transcending the era and offering something for everybody, nerd or not. This is an exceptional production (in fact, I’m planning on seeing it again before the end of the run). Get together a basket of food and some spirits, and go with a group. Don’t forget the bug spray!
Running at The Meadows at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library through August 7th.
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