Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Croy. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The set, in the woodland dell at The Mount, by Jonathan Croy; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
"Every journey ends in lovers meeting."
Kaileela Hobby and Zoe Laiz; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
William Shakespeare's 22nd play, "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," is this year's offering in the Dell at The Mount, Edith Wharton's historic home in Lenox, MA where Shakespeare and Company had its beginnings. After a fabulous "Romeo and Juliet" this is the best play chosen by the company for this location. The woodland setting is as romantic as you can get and even on an overly hot Saturday morning with almost more sunlight than there is on the sun itself, the play rolls along in the hands of a fine young cast who bring a sort of riotous joy to the proceedings.
Of course, this play has more familiar quotes in it than almost any other. For even the uninitiated playgoers there will be a sense of "Been there, heard that" to the ear. A cast of six actors and three chorus people playing "gentlewomen" bring to life fifteen characters with quick costume changes, different voices and accents and even different facial appearances made real by the actors' craft.
Chief in this last achievement are two of the company, Marcus Kearns and Zoe Laiz. Kearns plays the dual roles of Orsino, Duke of Illyria and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In the first role he is a lushly romantic figure, a nobleman who is a noble man in love with the young widow Olivia. In the second role he is one of the funniest comic figures Shakespeare ever created. Kearns switches back and forth betwen these two men, both of whom hope to marry Olivia. Orsino is tall, slender, straight-backed, upright and honest. His voice is as rich as his character is said to be. Aguecheek is haggard and homely, over-dressed, stooped and speaks with a creaky tone that tends to register breaks. The work is so well done by Kearns that if put side-by-side his characters would seem to be played by two very different men.
Laiz plays the romantic heroine Olivia, first seen in mourning black and then in colors as her heart warms to one unwitting suitor. She is also Antonia a piratical dame from another country who is responsible for rescuing Sebastian (I'll get to him in a minute) from drowning. This character was originally a man named Antonio. Turning him into a woman has given an additional element of romance, unrequited love, to this play which is already filled with "lovers." Laiz is both elegant and stern as Olivia and when she falls for a messenger boy named Caesario she becomes soft and pliant and a romantic figure even for herself. Laiz does all this while maintaining a physical strength that allows her to nearly knock-out a man with her tiny fist. As Antonia, with a mixed French/Italian accent and an easy facility for sword-play, she is all tomboy and is an idol for the disenfranchised. Her pursuit of Sebastian is clearly going to lead nowhere and Laiz allows us to sympathize with this character, the only fruitless suitor in the play who gets our respect.
Colin Gold plays the rescued twin, Sebastian who is late in the play confused with his twin sister, Viola, who has disguised herself as a boy in order to survive in this new country. As Casesario she serves Orsino in his pursuit of Olivia who falls in love with the boy who is really a girl. Kaileela Hobby plays this confusion of self-imposed roles. Both of these actors also assume other principal parts in the play: Gold plays Malvolio, Olivia's cousin and advisor; Hobby plays Maria, Olivia's maid who sets up some of the most devious plotting intended to embarrass a member of the nobility. Hobby is simply terrific in all three of her roles, each one as different as possible - not easy to do when you realize that Caesario is only a role played by Viola. Gold is a better Malvolio than Sebastian, although he has so much more to do in the cousin role than he has in the brother part.
Conor Seamus Moroney plays Sir Toby Belch in a most out-there manner, both funny and easy to comprehend. Belch has no secrets and Moroney provides no illusion of any. He plays this classically comic character, a manipulator of events, with a genuineness that is charming. As the Priest called up to wed Caesario and Olivia he adds a truly comic sense to this role, seen and heard from on high, as it were.
It is Gregory Boover as the clown, Feste, and as the servant Fabian, who does the onstage quick-changes and he does them brilliantly. This is a charming actor who cannot seem to remove that quality from any of his work. He is agile, and musical, and almost too talented for the parts he plays. His good looks work against him, but he overcomes that and when he plays an important scene between his two characters he is remarkably facile, keeping them separate and clearly defined.
In delicious costumes designed by Govane Lohbauer on a multi-surfaced, multi-colored patchwork set by Jonathan Croy the director, also Croy, has created a one hour and forty-four minute version of a play that has been known to take three hours to play. It is as funny and as touching as it needs to be to work and when you're sitting in the sun watching these young actors play in costumes that would keep them warm in the winter, you cannot be anything but overwhelmed at the devotion young professionals bring to their work.
For Shakespeare and Company this is a triumph, a perfect park play perfectly performed.
Colin Gold, Conor Seamus Moroney, Gregory Boover, Marcus Kearns; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
Kaileela Hobby and Marcus Kearns; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
Twelfth Night plays at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA through August 20. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353 or go on line to www.shakespeare.org.