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. Soulewhose character spends most of the play disguised as a boyskillfully 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 Edwardianmen in frock coats, women in constructed floor-length dressesbut, 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