In Love In Spring Again
-Theatre Review by Kimberley Lynne–
William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night is crammed with notorious Elizabethan tricks: mistaken identity, lost twins, unrequited love, costume gags, malaprops, French phrases, and a minor revenge plot. This production at Center Stage in Baltimore is a funny one with silly duels, triple takes, and zither underscoring.
The audience enters the Shakespearean world of Illyria through a props display in the inner lobby. Once inside the theatre, the doors on scenic designer Josh Epstein’s set establish that this is a farce. The obligatory phone message continues the screwball comedy tone as the clown Feste tries to answer the period phone receiver in her pocket. Director Gavin Witt transitions directly from that silliness into the poignant music of Edith Piaf and the heartsick plight of Duke Orsino. The Duke is pining over Olivia. Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked. Viola dons boy’s garb to search for her sibling. Acting on the Duke’s behalf, she inadvertently woos Olivia.
Witt embellishes the text’s discombobulation. When Viola enters the Duke’s house in her boy’s outfit, she’s pushing a cart, and the audience thinks for a moment that she is staff. She, therefore, appears, like magic. Witt orchestrates near twin misses throughout the play, and the audience loves each one because audiences LOVE to know something that the characters onstage do NOT. (Shakespeare understood this perfectly.) Witt shows the confusion, so when characters mistake the twins, it’s believable, despite their different genders.
Witt’s choice of casting the clown Feste as a cross somewhere between Imogene Coca and Dorothy Parker presents an older voice doling out all those pithy pearls of wisdom. The text supports an older fool, but her limited singing range turns the songs into religious blessings.
Witt continues to tease his audience. In the famous ring scene, Sir Toby Belch and company hide under giant beach umbrellas instead of the requisite hedges, although portable hedges are used as scenery in a much later sequence.
The scene depicting Viola as Cesario shaving the Duke like a valet in a romantic scene is somewhat jarring. The action interrupts the audience’s suspension of disbelief, causing viewers to wonder about Cesario’s role in the Duke’s household.
Costume designer David Burdick’s palette is a mix of subtle neutral shades until the most celebrated costume joke in the cannon. A forged love note convinces dour Malvolio that Olivia wants him dressed in more yellow, and the audience roars at his garters in a spring shade of daffodil. Olivia’s mourning dress is stunningly draped in 1940s high fashion. Belch is made even frumpier in linen.
The cast is so strong that the audience was concerned about the usual throw-away character of the Captain, entertained by attendant Valentine, and tickled by idiot Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
As Malvolio, Allen McCullough is so seriously snotty that the motivation behind the Belch trio’s silly revenge plot is clear. Complicit audiences will laugh at poor Malvolio’s sad turn of luck.
Walking that comedic edge, Brian Reddy as Sir Toby Belch wildly swings between camping it up like W.C. Fields and serious realism, but there’s not a bit of chemistry between him and his love interest, Olivia’s waiting-gentlewoman Maria.
As Duke Orsio, strapping William Connell barges through double doors with aplomb. His early and shallow pomposity makes his unraveling so poignant when he realizes that he’s in love with the boy Cesario/Viola. The human heart is mysterious. When the Duke brushes a tear from Viola’s cheek, the audience falls in love too.
And it’s good to contemplate love in spring, if spring should ever come.
Post Photos Courtesy of https://www.centerstage.org/