Saturday, December 05, 2009

Twelfth Night - Seattle Shakespeare Company

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
Seattle Shakespeare Company
December 3-27, 2009
Tickets and Information

Jose A. Rufino (Orsino) and Chris Ensweiler (Feste). Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

In the vast array of Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night is many a person's favorite; the comedy contains witty scenes, a satisfying romance, and a comic subplot that nearly always takes over the main story. This newest incarnation of the play picks up on Twelfth Night's holiday theme (it was originally performed for Queen Elizabeth on the twelfth night of Christmas), and turns the play into a joy-filled holiday play, a Seattle Shakes version of the Christmas classics playing everywhere in Seattle.

The audience is greeted before they even enter the theater proper, by the actors (bedecked in splendid semi-Dickensian costumes designed by Melanie Taylor Burgess) joining them in the lobby to sing Christmas carols and play party games. They bring this festive atmosphere onto the stage, where they teach the audience to sing a “catch” (a song in a round) and play games for Christmas prizes—until they are interrupted by a lost and disheveled Viola (Susannah Millonzi), and the story begins.

Director Stephanie Shine emphasizes the optimistic and fun-filled interpretations of this play, keeping the tone light and the humor overflowing. Her staging glides easily through the space with a good balance of swift pacing and momentary pauses between text, where unspoken motivations are made crystal clear for the audience. As is often the case, Shine's direction is intertwined with live music to great success; Sean Patrick Taylor directs the music (as well as playing Curio), and he and Carter Rodriguez (Valentine) fill in moments or counterpoint longer scenes with impressive guitar and lively singing. Feste the fool (Chris Ensweiler) also plays music, though his main instrument is his versatile singing voice and his physical comedy, both of which he employs to great effect.

John Bogar (Malvolio); l-r Darragh Kennan (Aguecheek), Frank Lawler (Fabian), Ray Gonzalez (Toby). Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The cast as a whole is a solid ensemble, all experienced Shakespeareans and all enjoying themselves in this festive show. Among the standouts is John Bogar, whose Malvolio is deep-voiced and both hilariously stuffy and oddly sympathetic; Bogar has a commanding stage presence, making it difficult to tear one's eyes away when he fully takes the stage for himself. Carol Roscoe's Maria is another character of note, especially in the later scenes when her prank on Malvolio comes to fruition; Maria's attempts to hide her un-suppressable laughter from her mistress Olivia (Brenda Joyner) make for some of the funniest moments of the show.

Andrea Bryn Bush's scenic design is simple but versatile, suggesting houses and streets at once, and decked out in boughs and bows of holiday cheer. Andrew D. Smith's lighting design is a beautiful use of the space, bringing gentle washes and specific lights and shadows to each corner of the stage, including lanterns hung cheerily from the ceiling, each decked with ribbons and mistletoe. The design as a whole leans heavily on Dickensian style, but each designer branches out to bring a little flavor of something different and exotic to the plaid-and checkered English winter, adding flair to the overall style of the show in the way that Viola and her twin Sebastian (Tim Gouran) bring spice to the land of Illyria.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's classics, and this version of it brings out all the joy and cheer that the story has to offer. In a world of repeat holiday shows, Seattle Shakes' Twelfth Night offers a festive, satisfying and buoyant alternative: something old, made bright and new again.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

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