BY JAMES GAGE | Reporter
“Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare’s fun, frolicking, flirtatious farce, returns to the Pierson Playhouse, running Friday to Sunday through February 17.
Directed by Sabrina Lloyd, this classic caper of mistaken identity, gender-bending, slapstick, swordfights and songs was a delight to see on opening night last Friday, January 11.
The play takes place along the ancient shores of Illyria, where a shipwreck separates twins Sebastian (Ray Wilson) and Viola (Sydney Nicole Newman). As Viola washes ashore, she believes her brother to be lost beneath the waves.
In Illyria, Duke Orsino (Nick Coelius) is enamored of the fair lady Olivia (Rosie Mandel), but his advances are rebuffed. Viola, with the help of a salty sea captain (Aaron Merken), disguises herself as a boy, and, calling herself by the name “Cesario,” enters into the Duke’s service.
Hijinks ensue as Duke Orsino begins to fall in love with Cesario, unaware “he” is actually Viola. Viola then begins to fall in love with the Duke. The Duke sends Cesario to woo the lady Olivia for him, but when Cesario tries, Olivia falls for “him” instead.
Meanwhile, Sebastian is alive, rescued from the wreckage by sea captain Antonio (Ismaele Montone), a former enemy of Orsino’s. As they enter the city, Antonio gives Sebastian his purse and elects to stay at the inn for safety.
In the backdrop of the love triangle, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby (Ross G) encourages his companion Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mark Fields Davison) to woo Olivia.
In a night of boozy revels with Olivia’s clown Feste (Jeff DeWitt), the trio enter into a contretemps with Malvolio (Philip Bartolf), Olivia’s sober, sane and solemn servant and enlist the help of lusty and vindictive housemaid Maria (Elizabeth McDowell) and clownish Fabian (Michael G. Coleman) to trick Malvolio with a letter convincing him to win Olivia’s love by dressing himself in cross-gartered yellow stockings (a style Olivia detests). Thus, the stage is set for fun.
The first act of the play tended to lag, with some conversations a bit mechanical and swordfight choreography a bit stiff. Viola and the Duke’s love seems to evolve too quickly and Feste, though endowed with a great singing voice, could be even more playful.
Minor complaints were cast aside in the second act, however, which was a mirthful downhill run full of great moments, natural chemistry and competent staging, especially the sword fight between Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The acrobatics of Antonio (Isamaele Montone) stole the swordfight scenes.
The play’s original music (written by Susan Stangl) was also a great strength of the show, and was strummed and sung sonorously by Fabian, Feste and Wilson.
Viola, Olivia, Sebastian and the Duke performed with good command over the language and the trio of Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew had quippy chemistry together. The officers (Eva Bebe and Pearl Spring Voss) were faithfully played and stole a few visually cued laughs themselves.
The show itself, however, was stolen by Malvolio who played the character with the deserved complexity that actors so often fail to capture, delivering his famous line, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” with the bone-chilling severity it was written to impart.
Bartolf’s grasp of the character and language was a treat to see. A close second being Davidson’s foppish, foolish and funny Sir Andrew.
The proscenium of Pierson Playhouse was also filled nicely with a minimalist set (designed by scenic artist Joanne Reich with props by Maria O’Connor) of two houses that drew on Mediterranean vibes with terracotta shingles, wooden casement windows and strung orb lanterns.
The costumes (designed by June Lissandrello) were a pastiche of new and old fashions and fabrics, with a bit of steampunk style thrown in, most notably Feste’s Bowie-esque face makeup.
My favorite touch was Viola “washing ashore” with rolling luggage, cellphone clasped in hand, as if she had just disembarked a 12-hour flight. Lighting (done by Sherman Wayne) was consistent and touched every part of the stage, though more could’ve been done with the shipwreck.
To “Twelfth Night,” I say—play on! Give me excess of it.
For more information and tickets, visit theatrepalisades.com.