TWELFTH NIGHT - Features Fun and Fantasy at Westport Country Playhouse
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” concludes another successful season at Westport Country Playhouse. Playhouse director, Mark Lamos, who earlier in his career played a clown role in this play, must have certainly enjoyed himself with this unusual production. Lamos apparently took advantage of the sub-title “...Or What You Will” and made this classic tale about human frailties, and sexual confusion, into what he willed it to be - a musical fantasy.
The classic plot begins with the shipwrecked Viola who believes her twin brother, Sebastian, has drowned. She dresses like a man in order to become employed by Duke Orsino. Although Viola secretly falls in love with the Duke, he pines for Lady Olivia. Acting as the Duke’s messenger while entreating for his favor, it turns out that Olivia prefers the messenger (Viola in male disguise) instead. Adding to the comic confusion over misplaced love is Malvolio; Olivia’s pompous, and head servant whose secret desires become the butt of household pranks. Like all happy fairy tales, everything gets sorted out when Sebastian arrives on the scene. Never the less, the curtain rises once more and Lamos leaves us with his own, stark, ambiguous ending - possibly alluding to the concept that things in our chaotic world may not always be what they seem - or what we have come to expect.
Famous lines to watch for are: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust on them.” Also: “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Speaking of music and keeping to Shakespeare’s dialogue, this production is easy to understand and may even appeal to young, adult audiences who will enjoy the bawdy, sexual references, and insertions of amusing, musical interludes. For example, in comic parting, the repeated use of the word “farewell,” cleverly leads to a song/dance routine snatched from “The Sound of Music.” Other solo songs rendered by Darius de Haas and musical arrangements by John Gromada enhance the show’s novelties.
If you have a teenager who dresses oddly, keeps an unkempt room and thrives on chaos and confusion, the scenery and costumes in this production will astound your senses even further. To begin with, the set, by Andrew Boyce reflects a dreamlike fantasy. The pounding sounds and painted images of the sea, a huge hill of sand and suggestions of two separate palaces are intertwined with numerous remnants of a shipwreck - which oddly includes some antique relics resting alongside party balloons (most likely leftovers from a modern cruise ship?). Except for modern toilets, tubs and sinks, everything that is and ever was on this planet, seems to have been absorbed by this ageless island of Illyria - and everything that is presented hits the viewer all at once.
Unfortunately, among the clashes and confusions of this imaginative creation, the audience may not immediately realize that every action does not take place in one spot. The scenes do change from one location to another. Lighting by Robert Wierzel helps to project these changes and with the mere addition of a chair, a few floor pillows and the raising and lowering of a mismatched assortment of crystal chandeliers, one supposedly gets accustomed to anything.
The “...What You Will” part of the chaos is carried forward by the erratic costumes created by Tilly Grimes. Like everything else in this play that is unsettling, Sir Toby sports Scottish, plaid knickers, his associated relative is dressed like a straw-hatted dandy from the 1920’s and two clowns, also belonging to Olivia’s palace are wearing rag-tag, ruffled-necked outfits. Lady Olivia’s two, female attendants wear long dresses that reveal work pants between a center split, her maid wears wide, skirt/pants resembling a resort outfit and Olivia’s chief houseman, Malvolio, wears English butler’s formal wear. The twins, Viola and Sebastian are clad in uniform tan, straight-legged pants and pale orange-striped vests - colors that are unfortunately too drab to compliment the actors’ olive complexions.
But, most astounding to your senses is David Schramm as “Sir Toby Belch,” who steals the stage with his wild shenanigans. David Adkins as Malvolio (“mal” - as in bad) also keeps the audience spellbound with his pretentious presence and underhanded motivations, while Darius de Haas as the wise fool called “Feste” lends a finer ambiance with his charming voice and descriptive arm movements. Donnetta Grays plays the lively, outspoken maid, “Maria,” and her commanding, lovelorn mistress, “Olivia,” is Susan Watson.
Compared to the livelier characters, Lucas Hall as “Orsino,” and Mahira Kakkar as “Viola,” give undistinguished performances. As a couple mysteriously attracted to each other, few sparks transpire between them. Rachid Sabitri plays “Sebastian,” Viola’s twin brother who comes in at the end. Despite all odds against him, he renders a fine performance as Olivia’s mistaken lover.
Pairing Kakkar and Sabitri as twins because of similar facial and physical features may have been a lucky strike, however, when matched to their towering love-mates they resemble identical dolls. When characters don’t fit our pre-conceived notions, romantic attractions are harder to accept. This is because in the end, we still like to believe in fairytales.
No matter what your philosophy about love is, don’t miss this highly original production of “Twelfth Night.” It will not disappoint.
Plays through Nov. 5.
For related events and tickets call: 203 227-4177