Monday, June 30, 2014

The 2014 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Twelfth Night

Background Info:
I visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during the preview week of its 2014 season, watching the second preview show for each of the six plays.  I will be posting my reviews all week on this blog.  I will link my reviews as they become public.
A Comedy of Errors 6/29/14
Henry IV Part One  on 7/1/24
Measure For Measure on 7/2/14
Sense and Sensibility on 7/3/14
Into The Woods on 7/4/14
Why go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on 7/5/14
Unless otherwise noted, all photos used will be from the festival website,  Also, all information regarding tickets, seminars, tours, and classes for college credit is available there.

Remember to click on all photos in this post to enlarge them.

Without further ado, then, here is my review of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

According to what I have read, Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night for a Twelfth Night party for Queen Elizabeth I, which explains the title, as the play itself has nothing to do with the Christmas season; it is merely a fun story fit for revelry.
The basic plot is a strange and wonderful love triangle:
Viola, shipwrecked and believing her twin brother Sebastian has drowned, is rescued by the captain of the doomed vessel and washed ashore in Illyria, with whom her home city of Messaline is at war.  Viola has heard of Duke Orsino, who rules Illyria, and the sea captain tells her that Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia.  Upon hearing that Olivia has, within the last year, lost to death both her father and her brother, Viola realizes she can relate to the woman and expresses her wish to serve Olivia as a gentlewoman until she can somehow figure out what to do with her life now that all of her own family is dead.  But the captain informs Viola that Olivia is mourning and "will admit no kind of suit," so Viola is left with the Duke, who takes on only men.  She therefore decides to present herself as a eunuch to him, disguises herself by dressing as her brother, and calls herself Cesario.  Naturally, she falls in love with the duke, and he sends her to Olivia as a messenger, and -- you guessed it -- Olivia falls in love with Cesario (who is, of course, really Viola).
The subplots involve Olivia's nutty household.  There is her drunken uncle Toby, the relative from Hell that leeches off of everyone, not just his niece, but also his friend Fabian and the awkward and nerdy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who hopes to marry Olivia.  Olivia's gentlewoman Maria is in love with Toby and hence works against Olivia some of the time.  Also, Olivia's steward, the Puritan stand-in Malvolio, is in love with her.  Oh, and Feste, the jester, has returned, wanting work.
Still not confused enough?  Just wait until the very-much-not-drowned Sebastian shows up in town three months later with his overly-devoted rescuer, the sea captain/wanted man Antonio.

This year's Utah Shakespeare Festival version is directed by David Ivers, who is the co-artistic director for the whole festival.  David is more than incredibly talented, and his vision of this play definitely has made it a success.

Viola, played by Nell Geisslinger, is very good.  Sebastian, not so much.  Viola makes a convincing boy, and her comic moments are delightful.  We definitely feel for her as she fends off the infatuated Olivia and falls prey to the practical jokes of Sir Toby.

But she doesn't seem to feel much for Orsino, and her reunion with her brother is flat and almost unemotional.
Olivia is also a weak spot.  She's not bad, but Melinda Pfundstein plays every role the same way, and in this play, she just looks way too old for Cesario, old enough to be his and Sebastian's mother instead of a lover.  This detracts.
However, the play has many strengths.
Ivers has chosen to lighten up the whole awfulness of Sir Toby and the torture of Malvolio, making it truly funny in a way I have never seen before.  In fact, the cruelty of what is done to Malvolio is frequently off-putting to modern audiences, but Ivers' version of it will leave the audience laughing.

Part of this is due to the casting of Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Feste.  He is bitingly funny, but he balances his cut-to-the-core remarks with humanity, and thus he keeps the torture of Malvolio in the lighter range.
Ivers has also chosen to make Sir Toby more Falstaffian and a lovable rogue instead of a drunken leech.  This works well and lightens some of the nastiness of the play.
However, the very best part of the play is Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by the incomparably funny Quinn Mattfield.

They've dressed him as sort of a blond Tiny Tim, and he is so very painfully, hilariously nerdy that it is worth the entire show just to see him.

(Here's what the actor really looks like, shown on the left of this photo I took at a seminar.)

Over all, this is a very good version of Twelfth Night.  I would happily pay to see it again.  If you're going to the Festival this year, this play should be on your list.

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