Something Called "Twelfth Night"

by David A. Rosenberg

Connecticut Free Shakespeare is doing something they call “Twelfth Night” at Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo. If you’ve ever seen or read the play, you will recognize the characters’ names: Orsino, Viola, Sir Toby Belch, Malvolio and the rest. And you may recall many of the lines like “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Other resemblances are purely coincidental.

Whatever intricacies and subtleties this complex, divine comedy has are lost in a welter of pointless tomfoolery, superficial characterizations, lack of poetry and top-of-the-voice shouting that outshines even the raucousness of the zoo’s gorgeous peacocks. Luckily, under the brisk direction of Ellen Lieberman, the evening flashes by, a boon to families with young tykes in tow.

Liberties with the text are taken to make the play, as the program puts it, “accessible.” Even agreeing that “the earliest comedic productions were loud, boisterous, drunken affairs,” surely Shakespeare added his particular brand of humanity.

Lieberman starts not with Duke Orsino’s self-dramatizing “If music be the food of love, play on,” but the shipwrecked Viola’s wondering upon what shore she’s washed up. Disguising herself as a man named Cesario, Viola becomes Orsino’s servant and finds herself attracted to him. Orsino, in turn, pines for Olivia and sends Cesario to woo her. Olivia falls for Cesario, not realizing “he” is a “she.” Further mixups occur when Viola’s twin brother Sebastian (thought lost in the shipwreck) appears until all is, of course, straightened out by the end.

A subplot pits the puritanical Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, against a bunch of jokesters: drunken Sir Toby Belch, dopey Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabian (here Fabiana) and the guitar-strumming Feste. They convince Malvolio that Olivia pines for him and wishes to see him in cross-gartered yellow stockings.

In the evening’s cheapest gag, the words “cross-dressed” is added to “cross-gartered,” leading to Malvolio’s unlikely appearance in a woman’s yellow gown. Sad to say, it gets a big laugh. Viola thinks he’s gone mad and the conspirators confine him to the dark in a scene that should be a sudden shudder. Instead, it’s played as just another gag.

Shakespeare’s emphasis is on love in all its forms – romantic, friendly, platonic, lustful – and particularly the pitfalls of self-love. All eventually learn that true love is selfless, thus the happy couplings at the end. Only Malvolio remains under a dark cloud. “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” he says, a curse which could be chilling.

The actors plunge in. Katrina Foy is vivacious as the frenetic, impish Viola/Cesario, as is Mino Lora as the scheming Maria. Eric Nyquist is a genial Feste and a spirited musician, while Ian Eaton is a boisterous Toby and Andrew Clateman is a haughty Malvolio. Caught in the production’s maelstrom are Abbie Killeen, farcical where she should be mournful as Olivia, and Tim Shelton’s unromantic Orsino. Both are obviously talented actors, here led astray.

What counts most is the audience reaction and, the other night, they seemed pleased and attentive. The trouble is, they saw not “Twelfth Night” but a facsimile.

This review appeared In The Hour, Thurs., July 22


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