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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Twelfth Night


Emily Trask, William Vaughan, Rachel Pickup and Michael Brusasco
The Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, and director Robert Richmond have staged an effervescent production of Twelfth Night set in the early 20th century, before the catastrophic changes wrought by World War I. If the darker side of the play—the ruminations on loss and mortality—is muted in this reading, the humor is full-bodied and the staging is ingenious.

Richmond borrows the look of this production from silent film, with its elaborate postures and comic walks. The audience watches as twins Viola (Emily Trask) and Sebastian (William Vaughan) playfully dress each other in identical men's suits, then pose for a photo as they board an unseen ship. Next comes the dreamlike horror of a shipwreck, when the two can no longer hold onto each other, and then the play itself begins on Tony Cisek's luxurious white and gold set that even features a filigree grand piano. (This Viola does not appear in women's clothing until the very end of the play.)

In keeping with the emphasis on comedy, the standout performance in this production is Richard Sheridan Willis as Malvolio, the officious steward to the reclusive countess Olivia (Rachel Pickup). His hair elaborately curled, his face impassive, he seems to break free of his own body when he is tricked into believing that Olivia loves him. (Mariah Hale's costuming of the "yellow stockings and cross garters" scene is well worth the buildup.) He receives strong support from Craig Wallace as an ebullient Sir Toby Belch, Louis Butelli as a ukulele-playing Feste, Tonya Beckman as a bawdy Maria, and James Konicek as a delightfully vague Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Trask brings an intriguing stillness to Viola (except for the occasional slapstick moments), while Orsino (Michael Brusasco) tends to let his emotions run away with him. Pickup is a charming Olivia, well matched with both Trask and Vaughan.

Twelfth Night is easily William Shakespeare's most musical play—it's been adapted numerous times for the musical stage—and Richmond builds the atmosphere of its disguised and misguided lovers through music of the period, both classical (Debussy's "Clair de Lune") and popular ("By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "A Bicycle Built for Two"). Several of the actors also play musical instruments and, indeed, they perform an abbreviated music hall show during intermission.

Folger Theatre
Twelfth Night
April 30th June 9th
By William Shakespeare
Maria: Tonya Beckman
Orsino: Michael Brusasco
Feste: Louis Butelli
Antonio: Chris Genenbach
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: James Konicek
Valentine: Joshua Morgan
Olivia: Rachel Pickup
Viola: Emily Trask
Sebastian: William Vaughan
Sir Toby Belch: Craig Wallace
Malvolio: Richard Sheridan Willis
Directed by Robert Richmond
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 E. Capitol St., S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu/theatre


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


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



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