Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Directed by Adrian Locher.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"What is porquoi? Do or not do?"
Wayne Pyle, Alexander Gifford, Ashley Mayne; photo: Dan Region
There is too much fun in Shakespeare’s comedy "Twelfth Night" and it can be approached in various ways. Less an ensemble show than many, more so than some, it can accommodate stars or play as a knock-down farce or take a more subtle turn and emerge a slice of life situation comedy with pathos, eros and cosmos whirling into its special space. Walking the Dog Theater’s thoughtful production takes that third course and profits from that choice in its summer production at PS21 in Chatham, New York.
Played on a broad stage under a tent before an exotic set designed by Katie Jean Wall it appears to be more of a musical comedy than merely a comedy. "I am gone sir, and anon sir, I’ll be with you again..." You just want to get up out of your seat and dance a bit. Feste, the clown of the show, sings with glee and a lovely voice provided by actor Wayne Pyle. Pyle is an experienced Shakespearean and it shows in his work. He knows what to do when and how to say what. Nothing in his performance ever lags, or lacks, the energy and devil-may-care attitude needed. For a company consisting of professionals from several countries and non-professionals just learning their craft, having someone of Pyle’s accomplishments is a treat for all.
The story is one of twins separated by the sea - a visual delight in this production under Adrian Locher’s direction. Both end up in Illyria. Viola, the girl, is soon disguised as a boy and in such dress is able to move about more freely than she would have been able to as a girl. Sebastian is confused about his place in the world. Both meet Olivia, a countess with more conquests than she can count. Once she has fallen in love with the boy, nee girl, it must be hoped that she loves more than his looks for she ends up with his/her twin.
Ashley Mayne is Viola, known as Caesario; Jacob Woods is her brother. Woods, a member of the Gloucester Theater Company in Britain, is a strong, handsome, sturdy man with a definite presence on the stage. Mayne has a softer, less specific side, often consulting with her shoulder as she shrugs her way into a confrontation. She manages to pull off the boyish aspects of her complex character very well, even using awkwardness as an asset.
The affectionate object, Olivia, is played by Melania Levitsky who has a history in the theater in the U.S., Holland and South Africa. Tall, mannered and somewhat severe in her look, she is not the ideal woman for this part, but in love she is pretty and in haste she is sweet. She would never be my first choice for this part, but she makes it work rather well for all of that.
Benedicta Bertau is Olivia’s woman-servant, Maria. Bertau is better and better at these quick-tongued roles. She gets through her toughest speeches with alacrity. Almost her equal in using strange utterances is Paul Boothroyd as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. A senior at Hawthorne Valley High he is, perhaps, and arguably so, the funnies person in the play. Young as he is, he can milk the appreciative applause and laughter with any line or action at his command. Eddie Allen who brings his experience with a Commedia dell’Arte troupe into this play as Sir Toby Belch.
David Anderson is a wonderful Malvolio. This actor has an almost rubber face and he uses it, his finely mannered gestures and an almost too fey enjoyment of this role, to create a very unforgettable villainy. Alexander Gifford adds polish to a role that demands music, the food of love, to sound his destiny. His is the hardest part, with its quixotic changes in affection having to play very real. He handles it as well as most.
The two and a half hour show, with its seemingly improvised costumes - designed by Emily Maynard - is a non-stop heave-ho across the large and deep stage under the tent in Chatham. Sometimes the relentless energy palls but usually not and heat, bugs and train whistles aside, Walking the Dog Theater makes the most of this, their fine moment under the moon.
Gifford, Paul Boothroyd, David Anderson, Eddie Allen; photo: Dan Region
Mayne, Gifford, Melania Levitsky, Jacob Woods; photo: Dan Region
Twelfth Night plays at PS21 through August 30. This hilltop property on farm lands and among apple orchards can be found on route 66 going North just outside the town of Chatham, New York. For tickets and information call 518-392-6121.