nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 1, 2010
Judith Jarosz's new production of Twelfth Night at Theater Ten Ten begins not with the familiar "If music be the food of love, play on" but rather with some exposition: Viola and the Sea Captain appear on stage and reveal that she and her twin brother Sebastian were victims of a catastrophic shipwreck, with the brother's whereabouts now unknown (Viola fears he may be dead). The Captain tells Viola that they have washed ashore at Illyria, which is ruled by Duke Orsino, who is wooing Countess Olivia; Olivia, he explains, having recently lost both her beloved father and brother, is unmoved by Orsino's overtures. Quickly, Viola hatches a plan to enter Orsino's court in disguise as a young man who will be called Cesario. Viola seems already to have set her sights on Orsino.
It is only at this point that we meet the Duke, who says that famous line; and then the scene shifts to Olivia's household, which is where Jarosz keeps the focus of the Twelfth Night very squarely until this light-hearted romantic comedy plays itself out. In this version, the machinations of its three female characters are what set the plot in motion: Viola does Orsino's bidding to win his heart, Olivia emerges from mourning to find love with Cesario, and Olivia's maidservant Maria plans elaborate revenge against the steward Malvolio in response to a personal insult and, later, to help her woo Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch.
All three of the actresses who occupy these roles make delightful, strong impressions. Annalisa Loeffler gives us a beautiful, lively, and headstrong Olivia, one in whom the pre-mourning gaiety and wit that must have attracted Orsino in the first place is very much in evidence; I can't recall ever seeing this role played as well. Elizabeth Kensek is very much Loeffler's match as Viola, giving this heroine a much less naive cast than is usual and making her very much the master/mistress of her fortunes, in disguise or not. And Lynn Marie Macy is an earthy, hearty, and lusty Maria, clearly in command as she gambols with (and manipulates) Sir Toby and his foolish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Filling out Olivia's household are Andrew Clateman as Feste, the fool, who nonetheless is probably the wisest man on stage: his very funny and very physical take on the character brings to mind Harpo Marx (though of course this fool is far from silent); and David Fuller as the stern but befuddled Malvolio, here a posturing boor, besotted with himself and his scant and illusory power. As the visiting Sir Andrew, Scott Michael Morales is a skillful foil for Richard Brundage's conniving Sir Toby.
Josh Powell, meanwhile, is a woozy lovestruck boy as poor Orsino (and his charming performance demonstrates immense range following his impressive turn as the union organizer Larry Foreman in the previous Ten Ten show, The Cradle Will Rock).
Sebastian proves to be alive, as we discover with the appearance of Kris Monroe as Viola's twin; Monroe gives us a callow but brave young man who lives on luck and bluster. Completing the fine ensemble in multiple roles are Robert Meksin and David Weinheimer.
Jarosz keeps the show fast-paced and engaging. She's set the play in a world that's half Moroccan and half traditional Elizabethan, with the former adding a layer of exoticism to the latter's more customary trappings. Giles Hogya and Ernesto Mier have supplied a unit set that serves the play and Jarosz's vision of it quite soundly, and their lighting is both appropriate and beautiful. Deborah Wright Houston supplies lavish costumes that reflect both worlds as well. Jason Wynn's sound and music add a lovely light touch to the proceedings.
This is a Twelfth Night that succeeds in freshening up a very familiar play without reinventing or deconstructing it. If you know the play, I think you'll find much in the acting, design, and presentation to enliven your ideas about it. If you don't it, this is a fine and entertaining introduction to it.
This is, the program informs us, the final production by this company at the Park Avenue Christian Church; it's a fitting valedictory to one of New York's longest-running alternative venues and simultaneously a tantalizing portent of exciting new work to come when Jarosz and her colleagues reorganize themselves in another space in the near future.