Thursday through Saturday nights, the Adams Memorial Theatre MainStage was transformed into what Director David Eppel described in his program notes as “that most wonderful of places,” Illyria, “where nothing seems to belong and everything is askew.” Replete with convoluted love triangles, gender-concealing disguises and bawdy drunks, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies, has remained a perennial favorite through countless adaptations and interpretations. The theatre department’s production, while a fairly liberal treatment of the Bard’s work, illustrates why Twelfth Night, in its various incarnations, has remained a theater standard that has delighted audiences for centuries. Saturday’s performance of this oft delectably enjoyable play held itself to the highest of standards.
Without competent acting even Shakespeare’s consummate lyric wit and physical comedy can fall flat. Pleasurably, the actors in Eppel’s production gave strong performances. On the whole, the cast adeptly handled everything from the subtle nuances of Shakespeare’s intricate verse to the more ribald comic scenes. Lucas Peterson ’01, as the lovelorn Orsino, skillfully balanced the Duke’s melancholy with a comedic air. Clad in purple velvet leggings and a full-length metallic purple and gold coat, Peterson’s Orsino was endearingly emotive yet not overplayed. In her debut on the Williams stage, J. Ann McLeod ’02 was an inspired Olivia. Wonderfully coy and seductive, she performed with a level of poise surprising for a first-year.
With Ã©lan and humor, Peterson and McLeod provided the support to which the play’s other strong performances were tied. As Cesario (Viola), a character with more lines but less depth than either Orsino or Olivia, E. Channing Powell ’01 was amusing. Her delivery was eloquent if slightly contrived. Eppel’s interpretation of Twelfth Night emphasized the play’s usually subtly implied theme of homosexuality. Disguised as the eunuch Cesario, Powell’s scenes with Peterson and McLeod in which they seemingly question their own sexual leanings are some of her most humorous. However, Powell’s most humorous scene by far was her coerced fight with the drunken, ne’er-do-well Sir Andrew Aguecheek (played by Rob Seitleman ’01). Several of the loudest laughs of the night came from watching the two dance around the stage timidly thrusting their swords at each other. Seitleman’s portrayal could be described as nothing if not completely over-the-top, but in this play in this part, his over-exuberance worked extremely well.
Seitleman, Craig DiFolco ’99 (Sir Toby Belch) and Emmy Lou Diaz ’01 (Maria) were a hilarious triumvirate scheming against the delightfully pompous Malvolio played by Michael Izquierdo ’99. Compared to Sir Andrew, DiFolco was a strangely quiet Sir Toby. Usually it is this part and not the former that is the most exaggerated and therefore the most bawdily comedic. However, juxtaposed against the highly impressionistic set and the ultra-modern costumes of rest of the cast, DiFolco, dressed in his fly fisherman costume, could not be ignored as a source of quite a few laughs. Never did the audience roar louder than during his cruel interplay with Izquierdo.
When Shakespeare costumed Malvolio in cross-gartered, yellow stockings, he could never have imagined the hilarity of the guise in which Izquierdo appeared on stage. Believing himself to be the object of McLeod’s desires, Izquierdo, effectively matched Malvolio’s condescension to a ridiculous smile and jaunty stage presence. Handling the role with aplomb, Izquierdo was highly enjoyable to watch. Finally, John Magary ‘00was excellent in the role of Feste the jester. Given almost unquestionably the best lines of the play, Magary was delightful both in song and spoken voice as the wise clown. Whether inciting Sir Toby to mischief, fooling in front of Olivia, or torturing Malvolio while dressed as the venerable Sir Topas, the play was enhanced by Magary’s assured and charismatic presence on stage.
The weakest performance of the night was given by Seth Resnick ’99. His portrayal of Sebastian was more melodramatic than Shakespearean, and his interactions with McLeod and Justin Deichman ‘01, who played Antonio the sailor, were unnecessarily overplayed. Instead of being comic, his garishly over-the-top facial expressions were frustrating as they hearkened back to something one would expect from a high school production. Not at fault so much for their acting, but for being completely unnecessary to the course of the action of the play were Olivia’s two ladies-in-waiting. In parts created for this production, Cathy Nicholson ’00 and Lydia Haile ’02 wandered awkwardly and purposelessly about the stage.
Although the play occasionally faltered, overall it was executed quite well. The surreal set was composed of Orsino’s lair-like palace, furnished with lime-green chaise lounge and lavender gazebo, Olivia’s flower-filled garden accented with black and white shrubbery, and the equally stark black and white interior of her palace. The starkness of the set, recycled from last spring’s melodrama A Tale of Mystery, provided a potent contrast to the play’s vibrant costuming. Combining everything from heavy fluorescent velvets to leopard prints to shiny diaphanous metallic fabrics, the highly futuristic costumes were exceedingly pleasing to the eye. Equally pleasing to ear was the play’s original sound design by Michael Cooper ’01 and DiFolco, which reinforced the at times whimsical and at times melancholy mood of the play.
Eppel’s production of Twelfth Night is a performance definitely worth watching as it is a good execution of a Shakespearean classic. However, a strong production of an excellent play was apparently not enough to please the theatre department. Eppel attempted to give the comedy deeper meaning by asking the big questions: Is the world depicted in the play real or imagined? Do the characters in the play know they are only actors on a stage? What is the actors’ relationship to reality? Eppel asked these questions by making his stagehands a part of the play that could not be ignored. They wore orange jump suits and yellow hard hats and often appeared on stage in the middle of a scene, interrupting the action. The stagehands would indiscreetly provide the characters with props and cause scenery to fall from above at the wrong moments. At times, the characters looked surprised to see the orange clad figures on stage, but at other times, they seemed wholly accepting of them.
This inconsistency, in addition to a scene near the end of the play in which half a dozen stagehands appear on stage looking very confused, completely halting the play’s momentum, make the device ineffectual. The production would have been strong enough based on the inherent merit of the play and the high caliber of the acting. Such a device exploring the nature of the theater was unnecessary, especially because it was not entirely consistent. The already hilarious performance would have been more enjoyable if it could have been appreciated on a solely comedic level without the seemingly clumsy interjection of a search for the deeper-seated meaning of theater.
Twelfth Night will play November 19-21 on the MainStage. Call x2425 for information.