Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Shakespearian Celebration of the Twelfth Night of Christmas
Believing that her twin brother Sebastian has drowned, the shipwrecked and nubile Viola washes up on the shore of Illyria (ancient Albania, believe it or not). Disguising herself as a eunuch ("Cesario"), Viola obtains employment with Duke Orsino, who employs the delicate youth to woo the reluctant Olivia for him. "Cesario" is smitten with the Duke, and, in turn, Olivia with "Cesario." When Sebastian eventually shows up alive, he will be mistaken for "Cesario" (Viola). No short shrift is given to the doings of the fulsome set of comedians in Olivia's household: her roistering uncle Sir Tony Belch, his foolish companion Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia's fool Feste, and maid Maria. They all plot against her persnickety steward Malvolio.
Elena Shaddow (Olivia) and Amy Hutchins (Viola) play off one another delightfully, each capturing both the humor and emotional currents of her respective role. Steve Wilson (Orsino) is too broadly comic. The foolishness of Orsino's mooning about because of his unrequited love of Olivia is clear through his dialogue. The solid laugh which his musician (Philip Estrera) evokes by his reaction to Orsino's behavior is more than enough to clue in any who may be clueless. Furthermore, the homosexual panic which Orsino experiences because of his attraction to "Cesario" is not portrayed here. Geoff Wilson (Sebastian) is particularly lively and winning. Daniel Stewart leads the way among the comic crew with a full-bodied portrayal of Malvolio, giving full measure both to the comic and tragic sides of this put upon villain. Roger Dominic Casey (Antonio) performs with considerable verve.
Director Bonnie J. Monte has softened the extreme cruelty of the ultimate vengeance of the members of Olivia's household upon Malvolio by decorating the pitch black "inner chamber" in which Malvolio is imprisoned as a madman in the prevailing cut paper snow. Still, Malvolio's exit line, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" is delivered by Daniel Stewart with full force malevolence. Methinks that rather than representing a problem in this otherwise happy romp, this dark moment adds ballast to Twelfth Night. It does so by proclaiming that even during joyous revelry; it is incumbent upon us to remember that our behavior and actions have consequences. That exit line tellingly reminds us that life goes on after the final curtain descends
Aside from its smoothly glossy blue floor, the entire stage and beyond, as well as potted plantings, are festooned with confetti-like cut paper which serves to envelop this Twelfth Night and its viewers in snow. The celebratory visual feast is topped off by lights and stars illuminating the backdrop for the production's final scene. Director Bonnie J. Monte most ably doubles as set designer.
Possibly worth the price of admission in and of themselves are the outstanding costumes of Clint Ramos. With few exceptions (notably, the mourning Olivia, Malvolio and the priest), each costume is largely white, often offset by a single color, rich fabric. Viola and Sebastian's matching costumes have small blue jackets, Orsino's offset color is green, Antonio's is tan, and the comedians' are more colorfully, green, yellow and red (Feste has red candy stripes). As Olivia comes out of mourning and on to "Cesario," she wears a black top and a white skirt. Ramos' costumes are simple, classical and bring a rich color palette to snowy Illyria. The fine, complementary lighting by Tony Galaska singly adds rich hues of blue, green and purple to the cut paper scenery.
Striking are the eternal verities which Shakespeare provides even in his lightest of entertainments. When Shakespeare notes from a distance of 400 years, "As you know, what great ones do, the less will tattle of," we are reminded of the gossip concerning Tiger Woods and his personal transgressions which now occupy so much media attention. And in a time when people of all ideological persuasions are distrustful of what they are told by politicians, how knowing and timeless is the observation that "words are grown so false, I am loath to prove reason with them."
Verities aside, the bottom line is that a pleasurable divertissement is the paramount goal and achievement of this holiday season Twelfth Night.
Twelfth Night continues performances through January 3, 2010 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 8 pm: Wednesdays (12/23; 12/30), Saturdays, Sundays 2 pm. No Performances 12/24, 12/25, 12/31, 1/1. At the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, directed by Bonnie J. Monte