By: Sandi Durell
How authentic can Shakespeare become? Extremely! With every detail accounted for, the current productions of the Bard’s “Twelfe Night” and “Richard III,” in repertory at the Belasco Theatre, elevate the productions to brilliance.
The ritual of seeing Shakespearean actors dressing and putting on make-up on stage, is the reason to arrive early as the various actors (the female roles played by men as is the tradition), interact with the audience.
As Artistic Director of London’s Old Globe, Tony Winner Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing, Jersusalem) has left no stone unturned – – from the seven musicians who play rauschpfeifes, sackbuts, shawms, recorders, lute, cittern, theorbo, hurdy-gurdy, pipe & tabor, field drum and timpani in the Tower above, to the Elizabethan costumes made from materials as close to those available in London during the 1590s and 1600s – silks, velvets, fine linens – all hand stitched. The chandeliers are aglow with hundreds of wax candles that are lit and dimmed at the conclusion of each performance on the simple wooden set of two doors that open and close for exists and entrances, along with benches and banquet table (Jenny Tiramani).
As Olivia in Twelfth Night, Rylance floats across the stage in white face and gowns, with a twinkle and a stutter, using his own brand of clever and witty eccentricity, milking the part for all it’s worth with stylized aplomb that will have you laughing from start to 2 hour & 50 minute finish.
Somewhere on the coast of Illyria, young Viola (Samuel Barnett) and the ship’s captain (Terry McGinity) are washed ashore after a shipwreck, Viola believing her twin brother Sebastian (Joseph Timms) dead. She disguises herself as a young man and Olivia, trembling with excitement, nearly faints when she sees and desires him, her husband just deceased. Well, it’s one guffaw after another as love, betrayal and revenge unfold. Paul Chahidi as the cheeky Maria, Stephen Fry as pragmatic Malvolio, Colin Hurley as the soused Sir Toby, Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste, the all knowing clown, and Angus Wright as the buffoon Sir Andrew are standouts. The entire company – a gift!
Twists and turns – Now is the winter of our discontent -as Rylance morphs into the hump-backed, deformed handed Richard III, the manic, scheming, limping murderer in his quest for the throne. Here, Rylance plays the ultimate clown, seeking laughs vaudevillian style, his true treacherous self, hiding beneath the façade as he seduces and murders those who stand between him and his ambitions.
In both productions, this is a Mark Rylance that goes beyond as every move, gesture and innuendo is purposefully set to reveal something specific.
Homoerotic moments of tension are played to the hilt; comedy and tragedy come together as they were meant to. The 19 member cast performs a song and dance of the period to end each production adding the ultimate charm (music – Claire van Kampen). The perfect lighting is by Stan Pressner, as the cast is adroitly moved along by director Tim Carroll.
There is seating on both sides of the stage for some – in keeping with the days of yon.
With all the recent Shakespearean plays produced in New York, in there effort to change and bump them up to 21st century cool, the realization is that nothing can match the tried and true when the Bard is presented in the original conceit – – thankfully brought to American audiences by the Old Globe and Mark Rylance.
Get thee to the Belasco before February 2nd!
More detailed and comprehensive reviews on “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” by JK Clarke to follow