By Marlene S. Gaylinn

It may seem peculiar to attend a Shakespeare play at a zoo, but not if you realize that this Bridgeport zoo is also referred to as a “zoological garden” -- a huge park complete with flower gardens, playgrounds, ponds, ducks, picnic areas etc. The animal area is locked up during performances and you cannot visit or hear the animals roar at night.

The informal, courtyard setting appears to be fairly close to how plays were presented during Shakespeare’s time.  Interestingly, in those days the bard’s language was easily understood by the common folk who were able to attend affordable performances.  At “CT Free Shakespeare” admission is more than affordable.  In fact, both admission and parking are free (donation buckets are passed instead).  Folks come an hour early and bring the entire family, chairs, blankets and food.  Best of all, this professional troupe, which has been performing for eleven summers, has director Ellen Lieberman, who evidently has the foresight to make Shakespeare’s plays easily digestible and entertaining for everyone – even the children.

“Twelfth Night,” like several of Shakespeare comedies, concerns hidden identities and sets of mismatched lovers.  Here, the shipwrecked Viola lands on an island.  Believing her twin brother, Sebastian, has drowned; she dresses like a man and becomes employed by Duke Orsino.  Although Viola secretly falls in love with the Duke, he pines for Lady Olivia.  Acting as the Duke’s messenger, Viola tries to direct Olivia attention towards Orsino.  However, Olivia prefers the messenger (Viola in male disguise).  There are other comic twists to the plot. One of them concerns Malvolio, Olivia’s pompous, head servant who becomes the butt of several pranks.   It finally turns out that Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, is discovered to be alive, Viola’s disguise is then revealed, and everyone sorts themselves out in the end.  There are several famous lines in this play that are fun to watch for: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” also,  “If music be the food of love, play on.”

If the plot sounds puzzling, Eric Nyquist, who plays “Feste” (Olivia’s fool), livens up the fun with his acting, singing, and guitar playing.   Using his original songs plus period-style ballads, the talented musician also introduces and clarifies the scenes for the still confused.  Katherine Foy (Viola) and Abbie Killeen (Lady Olivia) are quite believable in their roles.  Andrew Clateman’s bitter character, appropriately named “Malvolio” (“mal” meaning “bad”), practically steals the show.  The evening we attended, whenever he appeared onstage, the peacocks that were roosting on the high branches of nearby trees began to scold loudly – as if on cue.  They must have recognized the tone of his voice.  Dressed in colorful, period costumes, the large cast was highly entertaining as they sang and danced throughout the production. 

Playing to July 31.  The company performs in Gilford Aug. 4-8 and Old Saybrook Aug. 11-15
Call: Infoline: 203-393-3213 or www.CTFreeShakespeare.org.

This article appears in July “On Connecticut Theatre”  


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