A Farcical "Twelfth Night"

By Geary Danihy

On the twelfth night of Christmas, the Lord of Misrule reigns supreme. Shakespeare apparently penned his “Twelfth Night” with that idea in mind and, as boarded by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, this comedy of misrule and mistaken identities, under the direction of Victor Maog, gets a boisterous treatment.

The emphasis here is on broad comedy as Viola (Juliana Bearse) and Sebastian (Jeff DeSisto), twins, are shipwrecked off the shore of Ilyria. Viola, for reasons never fully explained but, what the hell, decides to disguise herself as a man and serve Count Orsino (Darren Lee Brown), whom she immediately falls in love with.

Ah, but there are complications (of course), for Orsino is in love with Olivia (Madison Coppola), and sends Viola, now disguised as a man, to woo the fair maid in his place. Olivia promptly falls in love with the emissary. Oh, what is to be done?

Olivia, now smitten, must still deal with the misrule in her own household, most of it generated by Sir Toby Belch (Richard Ruiz), who is milking Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mark Blashford) for all he is worth with the help of Fabian (Curtis Longfellow) while bedeviling Malvolio (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte), Olivia’s steward.

The love triangle proceeds apace as Sir Toby, with the assistance of Maria (Arlene Bozich), Olivia’s gentlewoman, dreams up a plot to lure the pompous Malvolio to believe that his mistress is in love with him and wishes him to dress in yellow stocking, be cross-gartered, and smile a lot.

It all comes to a “Who are you, sir? Nay, who are you?” conclusion, with everyone satisfied, matched and married save for poor Malvolio, probably the most abused character in the Shakespearean canon.

Maog has taken the spirit of Twelfth Night to heart, and has apparently urged his actors to lay it on thick whenever possible. Purists may squirm a bit, but there’s no denying that his vision has been faithfully brought to life by a primarily young cast (lots of students up there on the stage) that eagerly cavorts and emotes.

Bearse, who had a bit of trouble with her moustache during the performance I saw, gives us an endearing Viola, although it’s a strain to believe that she could be mistaken for her brother (always a challenge when casting this play). However, she handles being “male” with aplomb, not an easy task.

However, there are some show-stealers up there, chief among them Blashford, as Aguecheek, Coppola as Olivia, and Guilarte as the much put upon Malvolio. Blashford is awkwardness personified, with one stocking up and the other down, all flailing legs and arms. It’s an engaging performance. And Coppola is mesmerizing as the love-struck Olivia, easily portraying her character’s rising passion and bringing it to a state of controlled dementia. Then there’s Guilarte as Malvolio. If you looked up the word “pomposity” in the dictionary, you’d probably find his picture. His extended cross-gartered scene is priceless.

Scenes are delineated by a set of doors (created by scenic designer Brett Calvo) that open and close and frame what looks like an upside-down birch tree (its symbolism escaped me). The flash and fury of the storm that opens the show is supplied by sound designer Abigail Golec and lighting designer Justin Poruban.

There’s an attempt to give a holiday overlay to the proceedings via two somewhat drab Christmas trees and some carols disguised as Medieval music. It all seems somewhat superfluous and forced, but, ‘tis the season.

Is this the definitive production of “Twelfth Night”? No, but it has many charms and, given Moag’s directorial intent, is of a piece. You may find Viola’s pawing of Orsino a bit much, and have to work hard at suspending your disbelief at certain moments, but there’s a lot of energy up there on the stage and some fine performances.

“Twelfth Night” runs through December 19. For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to www.crt.uconn.edu.


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