by: JK Clarke
Twelfth Night is a play that almost always delivers. It is incredibly funny, light, full of beautiful language and has a solid storyline that is plenty easy to follow. All a company must do is have strong command of the text and—most importantly—have fun performing it. And that’s exactly what the Shakespeare Off-Broadway group does in its new production at its new home at The Players Theater just off Minetta Lane in the West Village.
It’s a story of aristocratic twins, Viola (Maggie McGuire) and Sebastian (Eric Fletcher), who survive a shipwreck (unbeknownst to one another) and land on the shores of Illyria (likely Albania today). Viola decides to disguise herself as a serving boy and work for the noble in charge of the town, Duke Orsino (Alex Nicholson). He enlists her to woo, on his behalf, the Countess Olivia (Bridget Dunigan, with an amusing Carol Burnett-esque affect), who is grieving the loss of her father and brother and not interested in the Duke in the first place. Upon meeting the boy “Cesario,” however, she falls in love, and an absurd love triangle (quadrangle?) ensues. Especially once Sebastian surfaces in town and is confused for Cesario.
In the original text, the play wraps up with a song suggesting the whole thing was a fun farce, “but that’s all one, our play is done.” In this production the same song—sung by Feste the clown (a ukulele strumming Bekah Shade) along with the cast—with a few word changes also starts the play, thus setting the tone. This company wants us to know there’s a big goofy thing about to happen, so have a good time. And that creates the mood for the ensuing 90 perfectly.
Director Christian Amato has created a vaudevillian play with even the most severe characters more comical than dour. Malvolio (Jonathan Bethea), usually the target of anti-Puritan derision who is “most notoriously abused” by the Countess’s nephew, Sir Toby Belch (a delightfully inebriate Dominic Sellers) and his crew, here is treated as more of a misguided oaf, again lending to the generally light mood. Especially fun is Sir Toby’s foppish idiot friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Every production of Twelfth Night has its show stealer, and in this one it’s Tyler Nye’s Sir Andrew, a mincing, comically terrific buffoon afraid of his own shadow. His interactions, not only with Sir Toby and Maria (Brianna Hurley, another force in the play, with a delightful lilt and evocative of Madonna in her “Express Yourself” three-piece suit phase), but also in sparring with Cesario (with umbrellas), is top-notch clowning that’s belly-laugh funny.
Shakespeare Off-Broadway’s production is exactly what one wants from a Twelfth Night: fun and laughs with a succinct, clever delivery. It proves, once again, that a small community company can provide just as much Shakespearean fun at an affordable—nay cheap—ticket price as even a Broadway-level presentation. It’s a lovely way to start an evening out and have enough cash left for cocktails afterward. One looks forward to their next production.
Twelfth Night (Or What You Will). Friday and Saturday nights through March 7 at The Players Theatre (115 Macdougal Street at Minetta Lane). www.shakespeareoffbroadway.com
*Photos: Kelly Marsh/TTP (click on photos to enlarge)