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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Sumptuous Reconstruction of Twelfth Night

Also see Bob's reviews of Master Class and The Devil's Music: The Life and Times of Bessie Smith

Twelfth Night
Rebecca Brooksher and Christopher Innvar
Keep your eye on Miranda Hoffman's costumes for Veanne Cox when you see (and see it you should) director Rebecca Taichman's production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at Princeton's McCarter Theatre. I think Cox's wardrobe provides a key to understanding Taichman's deconstruction of one of the Bard's most integrated and delightful comedies.

This is the play in which Viola and her twin brother Sebastian have been shipwrecked and separated. Viola emerges on the shore of Illyria presuming that her brother has been drowned. She disguises herself as a youthful lad, Cesario. In this guise, Viola inveigles herself into the service of Orsino, Duke of Illyria, and quickly falls in love with him. Orsino, who has been courting the countess Olivia, employs Cesario to press his suit with her. Olivia has refused to be courted while in mourning for her recently deceased father and brother, but she is quickly smitten with Cesario. Later, after Viola's twin brother Sebastian arrives safe and sound in Illyria, the look-alike twins become the centerpieces of Shakespeare's oft employed farcical comedy of mistaken identity.

An extended comic subplot involves Olivia's scurrilous uncle Sir Toby Belch, her lady in waiting Maria, Belch's foolish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Feste (a clown). The quartet (particularly cruelly in this production) plots against Malvolio, Maria's steward, in response to his opposition to their rowdy abuse of Olivia's hospitality toward them.

There is nothing problematic about this comedy. Although there are dark notes, humor and high spirits are delightfully dominant throughout the play. However, Director Rebecca Taichman has designed her production to move from sadness and solemnity through intersecting moments of folly, passion, confusion and discovery before emerging into celestial bliss. Her concept is manifest in the costume design for Veanne Cox's Olivia. Cox wears "the same" fetching wraparound style cocktail dress throughout. However, it is at first in black, then evolves through a series of brightening colors until, prior to intermission, Olivia and the entire stage emerge in the lush deep red of passion. When love and joy abound after all the evening's contretemps, Cox emerges radiantly in white. Taichman's concept is firmly grounded in the text. It is also most ably supported by her directorial imagination, a first-rate seventeen-member cast, the lush set and lighting design by, respectively, Riccardo Hernandez and Christopher Akerlind, Miranda Hoffman's colorful and airy costumes, and, yes, there is more, a five piece orchestra with soprano soloist. There is a visual beauty to this production which is particularly satisfying.

Having taken us on this journey, Taichman's retention of Feste's sad closing song, a reminder of the impermanence of life's joyous moments, seems redundant. Her concept delays for a time, but does not deny, the sheer joy of this Twelfth Night celebration. In return for a delay in delight, we are treated to an absorbing original concept, and a beguiling and beautiful, eye filling evocation of Shakespeare's Illyria.

Rebecca Brooksher's Viola is fresh and appealing, boyish enough to pass as Cesario, yet in possession of the feminine appeal to win the heart of Orsino. Providing a perfect match to her interpretation is the likeable Kevin Isola as her twin brother Sebastian. Christopher Innvar is a stalwart, straightforward Orsino. Best of all is the distinctive Veanne Cox who is at her quirky comedic best as Olivia. It is a pleasure to see the always delightful Cox in a role which so beautifully showcases both her unique personality and sharply honed skill as a classical actress. There is not a weak link in the supporting cast which is led by Rick Foucheux (Sir Tony Belch), Stephen DeRosa (Feste), Nancy Robinette (Maria), Tom Story (Aguecheek) and Ted van Griethuysen (Malvolio).

The McCarter Theatre has partnered with the Shakespeare Theatre Company (D.C.) to bring us this unique, entertaining and spectacular Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night continues performances (Tuesday-Thursday 7:30 pm/Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees Sat. 3pm/Sun. 2pm) through March 29, 2009 at the Matthews Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540, Box Office: 609-258-2787; online www.mccarter.org.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare; directed by Rebecca Taichman

Cast

Orsino, Duke of Illyria…………………………Christopher Innvar
Viola (later disguised as Cesario)…………Rebecca Brooksher
Sebastian, her twin brother…………………………...Kevin Isola
Olivia, a countess……………………………………….Veanne Cox
Maria, Olivia's waiting-woman…………………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…………………………………….Stephen DeRosa
Captain (befriends Viola)/Priest…………………Brent Langdon
Antonio (befriends Sebastian)…………………….JaMario Stills
Valentine, servant to Orsino/Ensemble.…………..Rich Dreher
Curio, Attendant to Orsino/Ensemble………………Ben Graney
Ensemble…………...Janelle Abbott, Meda Miller, Jamal Green


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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