Review by Danny Gaisin
Shakespeare’s four century-old comedy still manages to interest audiences and undergoes innumerable incarnations…even at Stratford. Folks still remember the musical version with Brian Dennehy as ‘Toby’. The present version also has music and sung dialogue with accentuation via bell-like crystal emphasis which is occasionally aurally hurtful. The major plot deals with separated siblings and a necessitated transsexual disguise. She; as a he, loves her boss – a duke; he adores a countess who falls for the girl thinking she’s a male, and finally, the villain of the piece, aptly named Malvolio. For our viewing, the intricacies were exacerbated by five casting replacements.
Directress Martha Henry O.O., O.C. etc. is in her 4th decade with the Festival and historically leaves her personal imprint on every theatrical canvas she manages. For 12th Night, the staging, busy entries & exeunts plus creative blocking are her hallmark. She forces our focus on whatever action she feels is that moment’s tantamount.
The pivotal role of Viola/Cesario belongs to Sarah Afful and she’s adorably perfect in both duplications. Her stance and façades change with her portrayed personas, and she owns the show. The play’s famously zany duo of sirs Toby Belch & Andrew Aguecheek were interpreted by understudy Emilio Vieira and a gay-ish Tom Rooney. Vieira appears rather youthful for an annoying older uncle; but this is theatre. The moral and manipulative support the duo receive from Lucy Peacock’s Maria makes it an almost dangerous triumvirate of mischief.
The regal couple- Shannon Taylor as Olivia, and E.B. Smith’s physically intimidating Orsino, both have the innate charisma that one associates with those born to a high status; think of the 3rd generation scions that expect obsequious deference. They are perfectly cast and seem made for their roles. The heavy of the piece is Rod Beattie and he’s wonderfully understated. Beattie is more malicious than iniquitous, with a bit of inanity thrown in. The rest of the support cast all give full measure of role characterizations, so the overall impression is positive, right up to the denouement, happy endings & a pair of weddings.
For some reason, the Festival Theatre’s A/C seemed to be on over-cold, and many post-curtain viewers professed drowsiness during moments of on-stage activity. This scribe included. TWELFTH NIGHT is at the Festival Theatre until October 29th.