Saturday, October 10, 2009

Twelfth Night, Great Lakes Theater Festival

(David Anthony Smith as Malvolio, in the midst of a punking by Sir Toby Belch and his cohorts.)

If you enjoy a play with a substantial number of gecks* and coistrels**, along with lovers, jokers and a drooling and farting drunkard, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is your cup o’ mead.

And in this admirable production by the Great Lakes Theater Festival, director Charles Fee has nicely balanced the humorous, romantic and musical aspects of the play to fashion an evening of untrammeled enjoyment.

Complete with gender-bending tricks and outright practical jokes, Twelfth Night is one of Will’s most fanciful romantic comedies. And GLTF has plunked it down in an imaginary Persian-Moroccan setting of Illyria replete with tiled floors, elaborate screen walls and up-tempo scene change music that makes you want to get up and start whirling. But it’s best to restrain yourself, since the aisles are constantly filled with actors zipping on and off stage as this story of mistaken identities and yearning for love plays out.

On the romantic side of the equation, shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as young lad named Cesario, to avoid getting hit on. She is soon in the employ of Duke Orsino, who directs him/her to take his love notes to the lovely Countess Olivia. But Olivia is in a prolonged state of mourning over her brother’s death, so she’s not up for making whoopee with the Duke or anyone.

That is, until she lays eyes on Cesario, and soon Olivia flips over this slight blond dude. As Cesario, Sara M. Bruner cuts a rather dashing figure and executes some amusing double-takes as she sees Olivia swooning in her direction. Jodi Dominick convincingly portrays Olivia in the throes of sadness, but she doesn’t allow Olivia’s quickly evolving love for Cesario to play across her face as much as she might.

On the comedic side, Olivia’s besotted uncle Sir Toby Belch and his buddy, the flouncing and shallow Sir Andrew Aguecheek, show up to swill wine and party until the dawn. Always on the lookout for a new prank, Belch encourages Aguecheek to pursue his hopeless dream of wooing Olivia. He is joined in this sport by Olivia’s mischievous gentlewoman Maria and the clown Feste.

As Belch, Andrew May is a super-saturated souse from his red nose to his stumbling feet, and he generates plenty of laughter without tipping over (so to speak) into sheer burlesque. Ian Gould is equally amusing as Aguecheek, posing in mock grandeur when not cowering at the slightest hint of conflict or confrontation. Laura Perrotta’s Maria serves as an incisive, clever counterpoint to those two buffoons, while Eduardo Placer speaks and sings the role of Feste with gusto.

But some of the biggest guffaws come from David Anthony Smith, who makes Olivia’s priggish steward Malvolio a deserving butt of everyone’s jokes. His scene, when Malvolio tries to suss out the meaning of a fake love letter from Olivia, is a comedic gem as Smith sensuously chews every syllable like it was a slice of Corbo’s cassata cake.

Twelfth Night, properly done, should feel like a party, just like the Christmas holiday for which it is named. And this production by Great Lakes is a bash you shouldn’t miss.

* idiots
** scoundrels

Twelfth Night
Through November 1 at the Great Lakes
Theater Festival, PlayhouseSquare, at the
Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th Street,

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