However big the fool, there is always a bigger fool to admire him.
In Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” directed by Jess Brickman ’02 and produced by John Danilovich ’04, however, even the wisest audience member cannot help but be charmed by Feste (Joel Maguen ’02), the play’s brilliant fool. Whether singing clever rhymes or simply rubbing his chin, Maguen alone would be a good enough reason to see “Night.” Fortunately, there are more.
The beginning of “Night” finds Viola (Elizabeth Meriwether ’04) washed up on the shores of Illyria after her ship is wrecked in the Adriatic Sea. Grieving over her brother’s likely demise, Viola decides that, as a woman, she can not survive in this unfamiliar landscape. So she assumes a man’s garb and becomes a eunuch for the Duke Orsino (Nicholas Tucci ’04). What she does not foresee is that she will fall in love with this new master, who, in turn, despairs over Olivia (Elizabeth Prestel ’02), a countess who does not reciprocate his love and has also just lost a brother.
While Meriwether’s wide eyes and bemused facial expressions serve her character well in most cases, she rarely changes the tone of her voice, a breathless, slightly high-pitched timbre that would serve her better if she used it less. Tucci, too, does not change his pitch noticeably throughout his melancholy scenes, and one wonders if Viola really loves him or just the idea of being loved the way he moons over Olivia.
Excepting Feste, Olivia’s adoring man-servant Malvolio (Fran Kranz ’04) is the play’s most entertaining, well-acted character. Tricked into believing that Olivia returns his love, Malvolio decks himself out in yellow stockings and cross garters, a comical change of costume that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
The scenes involving Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby (Mateo Borghese ’04), her bumbling courtier Sir Andrew (Peter Cook ’05), her cousin Maria (Allison McCarty ’04) and their chum Fabian (Ian Lowe ’04) range from contrived to hilarious. The men’s most entertaining scene involves their mimicry of a Three Stooges routine while Malvolio reads a love letter Maria forged to him from Olivia.
The first scene between Viola’s brother Sebastian (Andy Sandberg ’05) and his best friend Antonio (Eric Eagan ’04) falters. Yet Sebastian and Antonio improve greatly once they arrive in Illyria. In the end, the audience pities Antonio’s unrequited love for Sebastian more than the obsessions of any of the other characters.
In an artistically unique meshing of scenery design and costuming, many characters wear bowler hats and suits. Beneath their garments, hints of cloud-patterned fabric escape from the jacket folds. Feste himself wears a cloud-patterned tie. In the background, most of the set pieces are painted with clouds, as well. This simple theme, which pays homage to the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte’s “Man in the Bowler Hat” series fits the masked confusion that runs rampant through the play.
But accompanying the cloud-painted background pieces are beautifully done but heavy-handed surreal images, such as a rose obscuring the uppermost part of a lamppost. These images are unnecessary and distracting.
Costumer Caroline Duncan ’02 dresses all the characters true to their form but Sir Toby. Wearing neon green pants and a tie, Sir Toby seems more like an Irish cartoon than Olivia’s perpetually drunken uncle.
Brickman can be most commended for the unassuming air of confidence with which her actors go about their performances. With impeccable blocking and a dead-on choice for musical accompaniment, the show flows with such ease that even in the fencing sequences, only those who take up the epee regularly will notice something awry. My only issue is with the set movers (“mimes”), who stay on stage during the scenes. When frozen in their black costumes or acting as extras, they are perfect. When they move about, the mimes are distracting and far from professional.
Brickman and Danilovich’s production of “Twelfth Night” is long and occasionally confusing. In the end, however, the show is nothing less than a delightfully comedic letter of love to mankind.
What lucky fools we mortals be.