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CONNECTICUT & BEYOND
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Westport Country Playhouse

Twelfth Night
David Schramm and Jordan Coughtry
For the fourth time in his career, Mark Lamos (once as an actor and otherwise as a director) brings William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will to the stage. At Westport Country Playhouse through November 5th, this is a most musical and brightly visual production which boosts and boasts a subplot sublime.

We are in Illyria where there has been a storm and shipwreck. Twin brothers Viola (Mahira Kakkar) and Sebastian (Rachid Sabitri) are now apart. Orsino (Lucas Hall) is a duke who falls in love with Olivia (Susan Kelechi Watson). Viola believes that her brother has perished and so disguises herself as Cesario, a page. Olivia, despite herself, has strong feelings for Cesario, who is actually Viola. Viola, though, has affection for Orsino. Yes, mistaken identity, confusion ...

Olivia's household is dominated by her very round uncle, Sir Toby Belch (David Schramm). It also includes nerd-like Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jordan Coughtry) and the acerbic, forever irritated Malvolio (seasoned regional stage actor David Adkins), a steward to Olivia. Malvolio thinks, incorrectly, that his mistress loves him.

Shakespeare often presents a fool who is more perceptive than most anyone else in the play. As Feste, Darius de Haas (with a long list of stage credits including Rent, has a lovely and distinctive singing voice. For those who have forgotten, this is the comedy which begins when the duke says, "If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of ..." Feste, lifting vocals, often points out that those pretending knowledge are quite often ignorant or inaccurate. For example, he notes that Olivia should not be mourning her brother's death; and points out Sir Andrew's limits. De Haas sings love melodies and, finally, a moving tune. De Haas, alas, suffered an Achilles tendon injury last week and is now confined to a period wooden wheelchair. Judging from the trappings (chandeliers, gramophone), Lamos and designer Andrew Boyce place the time in the early portion of the twentieth century. Feste is pushed about by actor Justin Kruger (who is double cast) and others. De Haas performs from the wheelchair with a combination of grace and musical expertise. Perhaps, in a curious way, this works in the show's favor after all.

Maria (an excellent and proactive Donnetta Lavinia Grays) initiates a plan to embarrass Malvolio, whom no one likes. He is a misfit and easy prey. Thinking that a letter supposedly from Olivia declares her love for him, Malvolio follows instructions and cross-garters himself—and so forth. This will not end well for him.

While he is on stage, Schramm, as Sir Toby, dominates. He is jocular and he is not shy. Belch pushes around Sir Andrew and has a great time of it making a mockery of others. Susan Kelechi Watson, playing Olivia, is physically lovely. She does not, though, have easy command of the verse, and could emote more as the play evolves.

Lamos' take this time around with Twelfth Night draws focus upon time, music, and relationships among people. Boyce's design scheme is attractive and vivid. Sand at a back section of the stage floor is appropriate. The lighting fixtures move up and down at the conclusion of the play. Tilly Grimes's outfits are enhancing. Many of the "male" characters, for example, wear Capri-type white pants or knickers.

Lamos grew up playing violin and he orchestrates many of his plays. This one is not an exception. John Gromada, with sound design and original music, is an asset. For all of the comedy and musicality, there is more than a hint of melancholy and the ephemeral.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will continues at Westport Country Playhouse through November 5th. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.WestportPlayhouse.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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