Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Lee Savage's scenic design includes audience seating on the sides of the wide stage, which places the opening of William Shakespeare's story in the gate area of an airport. In this fantasy-contemporary retelling of the play, the shipwreck that separates Viola (Antoinette Robinson) from her twin brother Sebastian (Paul Deo Jr.) is replaced with a plane crash, and Scott Zielinski's lighting design conveys the varied moods and settings.
As depicted by McSweeney and costume designer Jennifer Moeller, Illyria, the city where the rescued Viola finds herself, is a place where people wear extravagant costumes and seem a little overly dramatic. For her safety, Viola has dressed herself in men's clothes (a bright green suit) and, portraying herself as a young man named Cesario, takes employment with the lovesick Duke Orsino (Bhavesh Patel, in a suit apparently made from a Jackson Pollock canvas). Orsino wishes to marry Olivia (Hannah Yelland), who lives in isolation after the death of her brother (and wears head-to-toe black), but her interests fall on someone else.
Robinson is a magnificent Viola, by turns headstrong, dreamy yet determined, resolute even when circumstances seem to make no sense. Yelland is her match as a radiant Olivia, slipping out of emotional reserve into unbridled passion on the slimmest of pretexts; unfortunately, Patel fades into the background by comparison with these two vibrant women. The other standout is Heath Saunders as the melancholy clown Feste, who sings and plays guitar throughout.
The secondary plot, concerning an elaborate practical joke on Olivia's pompous steward Malvolio (Derek Smith), is usually played strictly for laughs, but McSweeney's interpretation leaves a bitter taste. Where Malvolio is usually portrayed as a preening moralist, scolding Olivia's drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (Andrew Weems) for his misbehavior, Smith makes him more of a bureaucrat doing his best to keep Olivia's home in order, which makes Malvolio's subsequent humiliation sting. (A particular prop that appears in the opening sequence plays an important part here, reappearing in the manner of Chekhov's gun that must be fired.)
Shakespeare Theatre Company