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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Seattle Rep's Twelfe Night
Ignites after a Sputtering Start

Also see David's review of To Kill A Mockingbird

 

Twelfe Night
Frank X, Charles Leggett, Andrew McGiunn and Nick Garrison
David Esbjornson, Seattle Repertory Theatre's artistic director, is at the helm of the first Rep staging of a Shakespeare play since his arrival on staff, and while the resulting production of the Bard's Twelfe Night: Or What You Will doesn't necessarily make one yearn for him to direct another from the canon right away, it has enough virtues and strong performances to make for a better than passable theatergoing experience.

Rife with mistaken identities, wild coincidences, women disguised as men, moonstruck lovers and a rotund scalawag at the center of the action, it sounds a lot like several other Shakespeare comedies (Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, etc.) and indeed it is. Esbjornon's initial meandering pacing and a woefully ineffective and wooden performance by Barzin Akhavan as Duke Orsino do not bode well at the top of the show. But presto, send in the clowns of the story and things are looking up. In a Seattle theatre career loaded with highlights, David Pichette's wry, wily and lithe Feste the clown is perhaps his crowning glory. He is well met by Frank X as the pompous Malvolio, Steward to the Lady Olivia, who revels in all his preening glory till he becomes the butt of a ruse designed to convince him Olivia has the hots for him. The actor gives a world class performance, and even manages to wring some sympathy from the audience when he is tricked into wearing yellow stockings and ribboned cross garters in a misguided attempt to woo his disinterested. Charles Leggett is not the most rotund Sir Toby Belch on record, but he is quite satisfyingly amusing as Olivia's sponging relation. In smaller comic roles, Nick Garrison who can just stand there and be funny is a source of metrosexual mirth as the courtier Fabian, and Brandon Whitehead carries off a trio of miniature roles, especially that of a pixilated Padre adroitly.

In the role of the castaway Viola, who has to pose as Orsino's male page, Christine Marie Brown is wholly convincing and handles Shakespeare's language with assurance. Cheyenne Casebier (unspeakably lovely, especially in a most fabulous violet gown, designed with style to spare by costumer Frances Kenny) is to the manner as the Countess Olivia (and to the Bard) born and, as her servant Maria, the redoubtable Mari Nelson is another asset to the production. Jacob Blumer, with fewer lines than many of the main characters, in the role of Viola's brother and Olivia's ultimate love match Cesario is most satisfactory. Andrew McGinn, though properly dotty as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, seems to have wandered in from a broader production of the play altogether.

Though Michael Pavelka's rather abstract scenic designs are sometimes hard to figure out, they are most agreeable to the eye, especially because they are so seamlessly and radiantly lit by lighting designer Scott Zielinski, who also creates stage magic for his grand ocean effects for the opening scene of Viola and Cesario braving the post shipwreck waves.

Twelfe Night runs through October 20 at Seattle Repertory Theatre's Bagley Wright main-stage, 155 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For more information, visit the Rep on-line at www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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