nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
November 8, 2008
Like any Shakespeare play, there is a lot that can be done to Twelfth Night or What You Will and not all of it to the benefit of play or audience. There has been a recent vogue of late to so revel in the potential darkness that it skews the work towards being "Twelfth Night or how poor misunderstood Malvolio suffers unfairly at the hands of a bunch of shallow fools." That may be properly "sensitive" or profound to some directorial viewpoints but it is also utterly devoid of humor and frequently manages to kill the inherently good time this play offers. Luckily, The Queen's Company's current all-women production, directed by Rebecca Patterson, has a fairly wonderful Malvolio and manages to re-engage him into the community at the end with great humor. However, the device that gets the production this satisfying ending is in itself one of the odder, unsatisfying and in-progress elements of the show. It is a good production but feels as if it could be better and will hopefully become so.
Set on a wonderful although under-utilized set by Kip Marsh, the play opens with Feste lip-syncing Bob Dylan's "How Does It Feel." It is a quirky, fun beginning that mostly works. The moment could use a bit more staging to carry through the song, or perhaps just not utilizing the entire song, and definitely more commitment. Like much of what is to follow, there is skill and thought here—it is just playing at a little lower level than comedy should and this cast seems capable enough to pick it up a notch or two. This disparity never sinks the production, but it does hold it back from the potential that seems to be lurking around it.
The play quickly moves to create the shipwreck and separation of twins Sebastian and Viola, then lands on Illyria and establishes the pivotal romantic relationships in short order—again bringing in the lip-syncing for Olivia (Annie Lennox's "Must Be Talking to An Angel"—charming but also not entirely sustained). In addition to the outside modern music as occasional scene commentary, Feste sings some of the play's actual lyrics (nicely done by Natalie Lebert) to more traditional music—both of which are entirely different from the pre-show and intermission music. There is not apparent link between the three musical styles other than that each must have seemed right at the time they were thought of for the moment they were placed in.
The cutting of the text is very comprehensible although at times the moment is moving faster than the actors. So while the story is clear, the cast overall isn't always moving emotionally as quickly or strongly as the text and it becomes easy to disengage. Happily, Malvolio (strongly played by Ayşan Çelik) brings a bit of contention and spice to the proceedings, with solid reactions and definite commitment. While no ogre, this is a Malvolio free of apologist tendencies and a welcome foil to the proceedings. This Malvolio has more at stake in getting his beloved than almost any other character on stage (to be fair, Carey Urban's Olivia gives him a run for the money, as it were) and is something to be seen. Additional fine performances by Kari Nicole Washington, Dionne Audain, Frances Uku, and Amy Dreisler add to the show's strengths and hold promise of developing further.
This Twelfth Night has a final lip-sync (Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time") that pays off wonderfully, utilizing each relationship in the play and bringing it all together more robustly than I expected. While a good production, seeing that at the end made me want the whole of it to be up to that level throughout.