Monday, February 02, 2009

New Review: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

For Back Stage.

Here's the tease:

Director J.R. Sullivan's production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the Pearl Theatre Company made me think about cartoons. Not those in which the characters are so exaggerated that only an animator could have invented them, but those in which characters are just slightly larger than reality. True, the play itself operates in this vein with its tale of twins Viola and Sebastian, separated in a shipwreck, and how mistaken identities and interlocking romances unfurl in the idyll of Illyria. But it's this revival's invigorating acting that demonstrates the difference between clever cartoon and merely coy caricature.

Consider Michael Gabriel Goodfriend's dashing Duke Orsino. He's desperately in love with the pert, poised Lady Olivia of Rachel Botchan, and Goodfriend sells that desperation with all the gooeyness of the end of Madame Butterfly. Nor is Orsino the most brazenly comic soul on stage: Those honors naturally go to Olivia's uncle Sir Toby Belch, played with brashly inebriated bombast by Bradford Cover; Olivia's would-be suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played with geeky grandiosity by David L. Townsend; and Feste the clown, played by the prodigiously talented Sean McNall. These three foster lunacy as they plot -- together with Olivia's saucy servant Maria, played as one hell of an earthy stewpot by Robin Leslie Brown -- to exact revenge on Malvolio, Olivia's narcissistic steward.

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