If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A Gorgeous “Twelfth Night” Concludes Hartford Stage Season

The first thing you notice is the set. Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge, who just last Monday night collected his second award in a row from the Connecticut Critics Circle for design, has done it again at Hartford Stage with his gorgeous topiary maze setting for the theatre’s current production of “Twelfth Night”. Shakespeare’s melancholy comedy of love thwarted and found has never looked better.

“Twelfth Night” is the story of shipwrecked Viola (a fetching Kate MacCluggage) who arrives in seaside Illyria and is soon working (disguised as a man) for the lovesick Duke Orsino (Lea Coco) whom she immediately fancies. The Duke, however, is pining for Olivia (Stacey Yen) who, in turn, is still mourning the loss of her brother but soon falls for Viola believing all too well her/his manly exterior.

Shakespeare’s merry mix-up makes room for Olivia’s often inebriated Uncle, Toby Belch (Michael Spencer-Davis) and his clueless co-hort Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a flexible Adam Green) and lady friend Maria (Jennifer Regan). The partying threesome are under the thumb of the preening Malvolio (Bruce Turk, superb), Olivia’s manservant who is secretly in love with her.

As played by the resourceful and endlessly amusing Mr. Turk, the role of Malvolio is one of the best in the play and Turk makes it a show-stopping performance of the highest order. The famous letter-reading scene may be the play’s high point as Malvolio is tricked into believing that Olivia secretly loves him. The fun is ingeniously staged in Hartford by director Darko Tresnjak whose inventive use of the setting in this delicious sequence is, alone, nearly worth the price of admission. Not as effective, however, is a later scene that has Malvolio imprisoned in an armillary sphere that doesn’t begin to suggest a dungeon. As good as the scenic design proves for most of play, it doesn’t always easily adapt to everything called for in the comedy.

Mr. Tresnjak’s company of actors also do not all come up to the level of Mr. Turk but MacCluggage -- so fine in last season’s “Bell, Book and Candle” -- does a good job of playing feminine/masculine throughout. Ms. Yen gets all of Olivia’s contradictions just right and Mr. Green is a most enjoyable object of ridicule during most of the comedy. Mr. Coco, though physically impressive as the romantic Orsino, unfortunately doesn’t generate much heat with MacCluggage and Che Ayende, with his blurry diction and minor singing ability, is far from the best choice to play the important role of the clown, Feste.

Still, there are many things to recommend this production from Matthew Richards’ lovely lighting to the colorful costuming by Linda Cho (also a CCC winner here for her work). The original music and sound design by David Budries and Nathan A. Roberts is also a big plus in a production that is often both pleasing to the eye and ear. The season has concluded on a very graceful note.

“Twelfth Night” continues at Hartford Stage through June 16. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.520.7247 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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