Shakespeare for Everyone

 


2006
Bric Studios
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or What You Will
by William Shakespeare
directed by
Deborah Wright Houston

 

If there were a Shakespearean household where it might actually be fun to live, Olivia's in "Twelfth Night" would be the place. Olivia, a countess, has only glamorous problems: a sexy young duke wants her for his bride, but she's not interested. Her relatives and staff seem to spend their time happily drinking, sometimes until the wee hours, and devising elaborate practical jokes.

This also makes it fun to watch  . . .  indeed, it is a tribute to the magic of theater that when the lights go down, even a second-floor studio in Fort Greene with a few rows of folding chairs can turn into Illyria.

The heroine of "Twelfth Night" is Viola (Brie Eley), a shipwreck survivor mourning her brother, lost at sea. She loves Orsino (Neimah Djourabchi), who has eyes only for Olivia (Rachel Alt). To get closer to him, Viola pulls her hair back, puts on men's clothing, calls herself Cesario and becomes his servant. Complications arise when Olivia decides that Cesario is the man of her dreams.

Meanwhile, Olivia's lively old uncle, Sir Toby Belch (a distinguished and devilish Ronald Cohen), is hanging out with Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ian Gould, who has a Will Ferrell-like comic quality), a cheerfully oblivious young man. With the help of Olivia's servant Maria (Nicole Potter), they decide to trick Malvolio (Joseph Small), Olivia's pompous, puritanical steward, into believing that Olivia is in love with him.

Much of the humor in "Twelfth Night" is nonverbal, which is helpful to Shakespeare novices, and there is a good bit of music. The 18th-century-style costumes by Deborah Wright Houston, who directed, and Lucie Chin are lovely, designed with elegant silhouettes in rich fabrics.

Anita Gates, The New York Times

King's County Shakespeare presents Twelfth Night in a traditional interpretation that attempts, as they say, to be "true to the text." Sets are minimal, though production values are quite high: the elaborate period costumes and the professionalism of the cast are strikingly evident.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most raucous, gender-bending romantic comedies. Viola disguises herself as Cesario, a page of Duke Orsino, after she believes her twin brother, Sebastian, drowned in a shipwreck. Orsino, whom Viola is secretly smitten with, sends "Cesario" to help him court Countess Olivia, who ends up falling in love with Viola, albeit in her garb as a boy, instead.  When Sebastian returns, of course, misplaced identities—and affections—run amok.

The focus of this production, however, is on the ample and impish subplot supplied by the fools. Sir Toby Blech, Sir Andrew Augecheek, and Feste carouse, drink, sing, and play pranks on their priggish foil, the Puritan Malvolio. They trick him into thinking that Olivia is in love with him, despite the fact that he is her humble servant. The fools design ways to make sure he's humbled, if not humiliated, too, whether it's getting him to dress in silly leggings or to repent his desires by locking himself away in a dark box.

Ronald Cohen as Sir Toby and Ian Gould as Sir Andrew are the standouts in a talented and multicultural cast. Cohen, playing the ruby-nosed, salacious old sop, highlights Toby's gregarious desperation to find joy in what remains of his life, even at the expense of others, in a way that is, by turns, hilarious, revolting, and sad. Gould, not to be outdone, displays a limber comic chutzpah as the foppish and cowardly Sir Andrew.

Joseph Small's Malvolio has the necessary malevolent, sneering authority that makes his character enjoyable as the butt of jokes. The fetching Martina Weber, as a gender-twisted Feste, sang lovely, pitch-perfect songs (some original and some traditional) accompanied by live fiddle, percussion, and mandolin. Jovis DePognon was also notable for his twinkle-eyed interpretation of Sebastian.

Director Deborah Wright Houston doubled as the costume designer and chose to use sumptuous, Restoration-era period costumes with frills, lace ruffs, oversized gold buttons, and beautiful details and fabric.

William Cordeiro, offoffonline.com

Many production companies mounting productions of Shakespeare forget that they originally were very simple—no set, a few spare props, and trusting the actors and the words to tell the story. Kings County Shakespeare wisely takes this approach with Twelfth Night, letting the machinations of the plot and the skill of the cast carry the show.

Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's later comedies, is a love triangle set into motion when Viola and Sebastian, a pair of twins, are victims of a shipwreck. Viola (Brie Eley) washes up on the shore of the mythical land of Illyria, where she disguises herself as a boy and enters the service of Illyria's duke Orsino (Neimah Djourabchi). Viola soon falls in love with him, but Orsino has his eye on the aloof Countess Olivia (Rachel Alt), and enlists the disguised Viola as his messenger to bear Olivia his pleas for affection. Olivia soon falls in love herself—but with Viola. Soon, Sebastian (Jovis DePognon) also turns up in Illyria, further confusing matters.

Eley does a fine job with Viola, but seems more amused than alarmed to find herself the object of Alt's affections.

Then there are the clowns and their subplot. Ronald Cohen and Nicole Potter are clearly enjoying themselves as Olivia's uncle Sir Toby Belch and Olivia's gentlewoman Maria, respectively, hatching a scheme with their companions to poke fun at Olivia's curmudgeonly steward Malvolio (Joseph Small).  One of Olivia's servants, played by Glenn Urieta, made me laugh out loud simply by delivering one of his lines with a barely-suppressed giggle.

Two standouts are Martina Weber, as Olivia's Fool, and Ian Gould as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a companion of Belch's who also is wooing Olivia. Weber plays the Fool, interestingly, as a no-nonsense sort, making deadpan comments on the absurdity of things rather than being absurd herself—something like an Elizabethan Jon Stewart. Weber also joins the show's "house band," a pair of traveling musicians, for two songs. Gould, on the other hand, has great fun with the physical comedy, without lapsing into shtick. He also seems to somehow have fantastic chemistry with every single member of the cast, giving even a duel between Aguecheek and Viola some comic turns—to the point that I actually wanted to see the duel go on a little longer.

Director Deborah Wright Houston puts the focus of the show squarely on the cast; the extremely pared-down set consists only of two benches and three curtains, and a scattering of throw pillows for the bits in Orsino's quarters.

Kimberly Wadsworth, nytheatre.com

 

 

Left, Rachel Alt (Olivia).  Above, Ian Gould (Sir Andrrew Aguecheek), Ron Cohen (Sir Toby Belch) and Nicole Potter (Maria). Photos by Jonathan Slaff

CAST

Orsino, Duke of Illyria

Neimah Djourabchi

Sebastain,
brother to Viola

Jovis DePognon

Antonio, a sea captain

Frank Smith

Valentine,
Duke's attendant

Ashlynne
Holder-Mosely

Curio, Duke's attendant

Zohnell Dixon

Sir Toby Belch,
uncle to Olivia

Ronald Cohen*

Sir Andrew Aguecheek,
suitor to Olivia

Ian Gould*

Malvolio,
Olivia's steward

Joseph Small*

Fabian, in the service of Olivia

Glenn Urieta

Feste, Olivia's fool

Martina Weber

Olivia, a rich countess

Rachel Alt

Viola, sister to Sebastain

Brie Eley*

Maria,
Olivia's gentlewoman

Nicole Potter*

Priest, Sailor and Officer

Bruno Peņa

Sea Captain and Officer

Joe Crow Ryan

*Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA)

CREW

Technical Director

Carol Feeley

Production Stage Manager

April A. Kline*

Set, Properties &
Fight Manager

Lucie Chin

Costumes & Wigs

Deborah Wright Houston & Lucie Chin

Costume Assistance

Linda Burlew

Lighting Designer

Carol Feeley

Website Manager

Joseph Small

Production Media Design

Charlie Coniglio

Press Jonathan Slaff Associates

Above, Joseph Small (Malvolio).
Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Above, Brie Eley (Viola), Neimah Djourabchi (Orsino). Photo by Jonathan Slaff

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