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Archive for May, 2013

Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Rick Dildine

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

May 25th and May 30th, 2013

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I look forward to Shakespeare Festival St. Louis every year. You get to see a top quality Shakespeare play outside in beautiful Forest Park with many fun pre-show activities, and it’s free! What’s not to love about that? This year, the show is one of Shakespeare’s more popular comedies, Twelfth Night, and as usual, SFSTL does not disappoint, putting on a very funny, engaging and musical production that more than lives up to SFSTL’s already excellent reputation.

The gender-bending story follows Viola (Kimiye Corwin) who is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother Sebastian (Vichet Chum), and disguises herself as a boy to serve as a page to Duke Orsino (Joshua Thomas), who is trying to woo the melancholy Countess Olivia (Leslie Ann Handelman) who is grieving for her recently deceased father and brother. Meanwhile, Olivia’s kinsman Sir Toby Belch (Eric Hoffmann) and her handmaiden Maria (Candice Jeanine) scheme with another suitor of Olivia’s, the bumbling and ineffectual Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Haas Regen) to humiliate Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Anderson Matthews).  Little does Viola know, though, that Sebastian has survived the shipwreck with the aid of sailor Antonio (Michael James Read), and his presence soon adds further complication to the already complex plot involving love-at-first-sight, mistaken identity and romantic confusion.

Music is a key element to this production, with live musicians onstage performing Shakespeare’s lyrics set to the folk-style tunes written by Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra, sung by Andy Paterson as the amiable fool Feste with a clear, soaring tenor voice. In fact, music pervades and underscores the whole show, setting the mood whether it’s mournful, melancholy, whimsical or romantic.

The striking set by Scott C. Neale is also a vital element in setting the mood of the production, with its colorful, off-kilter Mediterranean-style villa with an outsized full moon beside it.  The costumes, designed by Dottie Marshall Englis, suggest a mid-Victorian setting and are as colorful as the set.  The duped Malvolio’s getup in the second act is a real highlight that adds to the comedy of the production.  I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say Shakespeare’s words “yellow stockings and cross-gartered” are quite hilariously interpreted here.

As for the performances, it’s a top-notch cast all around.  Corwin makes a strong, equally earnest and bewildered Viola, whose struggles between her attraction to Orsino and trying to do her duty are made poignantly plain. She also has just the right amount of affected swagger that makes her masquerade both obvious and believable.  Her scenes with both Thomas as Orsino and Handelman as Olivia are expertly acted, and her chemistry with Thomas in particular is notable.  Thomas does a great job of portraying Orsino as both determined and somewhat conflicted as his determination to woo the reluctant Olivia conflicts with his growing attachment to his courtier “Cesario”, who he doesn’t realize is really Viola in disguise.  Handelman portrays Olivia with a mixture of aggressive melancholy and lovestruck energy, and Chum as Sebastian also does great work in his few scenes, displaying remarkable chemistry with both Handelman as his sudden love-interest and Corwin as his seemingly long-lost sister.

I loved the cohesive unit that was formed by the affably drunk Sir Toby, the awkward Sir Andrew and the scheming Maria, and all three actors work so well together and make their scenes a real joy to watch.  Sir Toby and crew baiting Malvolio is a masterfully staged moment of side-splitting physical comedy that was reminiscent of classic slapstick comedy and had me and most of the audience laughing our heads off.  The real standout in this plotline, though, is Matthews as Malvolio, who is brilliant in both his stiff pomposity and his bumbling foolishness.  The comic sword-fighting involving Viola, Sebastian, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby was also well-done and extremely funny.

As evidenced by the description in this review, this is a show with a whole lot of plot, and all the various elements fit together seamlessly as portrayed by this remarkable cast.  It was a great show, and almost came across as a musical with the many songs and live musicians.  The outside setting of the production also worked to set a dreamy mood, and the overall effect was one of sheer delight.

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