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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Twelfth Night

Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman's staging of Twelfth Night for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington suffers from excessive art direction. The cast is solid and, in some cases, sparkling, but instead of letting William Shakespeare's famous words speak for themselves, Taichman offers an overbearing vision that fills the large stage of Sidney Harman Hall with enormous photographic murals of roses, and causes showers of rose petals to punctuate various peaks of emotion.

That's not to say that some of Taichman's visuals aren't arresting and original, just that they only work when they serve the text. For example, this production opens with a dreamlike double vision drawn from the script: Viola (Samantha Soule), suspended above the stage, "swimming" after the shipwreck that separated her from her twin brother Sebastian (Peter Katona); on the stage floor far below, the countess Olivia (Veanne Cox) in formal mourning, pacing slowly. Before long, these journeys will collide in unexpected and amusing ways.

Christopher Innvar, who went for the big gesture in the company's productions of The Taming of the Shrew and The Way of the World, shows a subtler side here as the melancholy duke Orsino, and he's enormously winning. Soule—whose character spends most of the play disguised as a boy—skillfully shows the moments where Viola realizes she's in too deep with her deception, then tries something, anything, to keep going. Cox depicts Olivia's metamorphosis with delightful detail, from a stiff figure in black, hair sleek and severe, to the lovesick woman made a fool by love.

The standout in this cast is Tom Story as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the prissy would-be suitor to Olivia and friend of her convivial uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Rick Foucheux). Story squeals when startled, shimmies like a fish, and generally walks off with every scene in which he appears, even when surrounded by pros like Foucheux; Floyd King as the sardonic jester Feste; Nancy Robinette as the clever maid Maria; and Ted van Griethuysen as the pompous steward Malvolio.

Miranda Hoffman's costumes start out looking vaguely Edwardian—men in frock coats, women in constructed floor-length dresses—but, as the romantic complications bubble up, the women shift into brightly colored, billowing chiffon gowns. In keeping with the script's numerous songs and thematic emphasis on music, this production incorporates live music performed by a six-piece ensemble above the stage.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Twelfth Night
December 2nd, 2008 January 4th, 2009
By William Shakespeare
Orsino, Duke of Illyria: Christopher Innvar
Viola, later disguised as Cesario: Samantha Soule
Sebastian, her twin brother: Peter Katona
Olivia, a countess: Veanne Cox
Maria, Olivia's waiting-gentlewoman: Nancy Robinette
Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle: Rick Foucheux
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Tom Story
Malvolio, Olivia's steward: Ted van Griethuysen
Fabian, Olivia's servant: J. Fred Shiffman
Feste, a clown: Floyd King
Captain, befriends Viola: Todd Scofield
Antonio, a sea captain, befriends Sebastian: Michael Sharon
Priest: Todd Scofield
Valentine, attendant to Orsino: Dan Lawrence
Curio, attendant to Orsino: Nathan Bennett
Ensemble:Nathan Bennett, Billy Finn, Lia LaCour, Dan Lawrence, Nia Medina, Jeffrey Scott, Amanda Tudor
Directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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