“Twelfth Night,” Connecticut Free Shakespeare, Beardsley Park Zoo, Bridgeport
Also performed on Guilford Green and Old Saybrook Town Green

--Irene Backalenick

In a wealth of companies offering Shakespeare in the open, what makes Connecticut Free Shakespeare stand out? It is undoubtedly the intimate, nurturing, and charming ambience. CFS’s home base is the Beardsley Park Zoo, Peacock Pavilion.

Director Ellen Lieberman has two unique resources with her current production of “Twelfth Night”---singer/songwriter Eric Nyquist and, of course, the peacocks. The latter (quite at home with CFT’s annual summer productions) strut about, perch on the stage’s roof, and join in raucously. 

As to Nyquist, he not only plays a critical role (the fool Feste), but serves as a singing Narrator throughout the show, accompanied by his own guitar. Some tunes are his original pieces, some are of Shakespearean vintage. If the numerous children at the show (or the adults) have difficulty following what goes on, Nyquist’s pleasingly-sung tunes clarify the story.

In short, Lieberman has turned this Shakespearean fairy tale into a kind of light-hearted musical—though she has respected the text. The story, in fact, has all the elements so familiar to Shakespearean comedies: twins lost at sea, girls disguised as boys, mistaken identities, unrequited love. Viola and Sebastian are the twins in question. She arrives first in Illyria, disguises herself as Cesario in masculine attire so that she can serve Duke Orsino. She falls in love with the Duke, who loves Olivia, who falls in love with Cesario. Olivia’s household of servants develop plots of their own, and provide the low comedy so familiar to Shakespeare’s light works. Ultimately, Sebastian appears, and after much confusion, everything sorts itself out. Lovers pair off predictably, and all’s well that ends well.

Lieberman has her actors play their roles broadly, resulting in delightful farcical scenes. Every one is over the top, but all are in sync. The cast is generally first-rate, with several excellent performances in the featured roles.

Particularly noteworthy is Katrina Foy as Viola/Cesario, Bob Braswell as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Andrew Clateman as Malvolio, and Mino Lora as the maidservant Maria. The latter three appear in the low comedy scenes, turning those scenes into hilarious exchanges. Shakespeare’s low comedy, with its arcane language, can be undecipherable and boring, but not so with these performers. Even the bawdy references are indeed clear. Foy plays it broadly, like every one else, but manages a human, appealing portrayal. And Braswell as the wimpy, foolish knight Aguecheek, sounds just the right note. Clateman creates one of the best
Malvolio’s we’ve ever seen, combining pomposity and despair in equal measure. And Lora offers a rich, ringing voice and a fine sense of timing.

Finally, the design team provides a serviceable back-up, so that scenes glide smoothly into each other, and the show goes forward at a lively pace.

In short, this “Twelfth Night” is a fine evening’s entertainment, one that holds its head high in the multitude of current outdoor Shakespeare shows.

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and nytheaterscene.com.

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