Twelfth Night, or What You Will
She & Her Productions created another stellar show with their debut of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at Just Off Broadway Theatre. Like all other shows I've attended of theirs, the casting stands out from other metro venues. Credit goes to the girls with selecting talented directors who carefully cast actors capable of taking on the subtle distinctions of their characters and then perform with precision accuracy.
Granted, the performance I attended was flawed, not due to acting, but due to an air-conditioning malfunction that kept audiences fanning themselves with programs while dedicated actors overcame uncomfortable circumstances to perform with gusto and flair, while visibly sweating under the theatrical lights. I certainly applaud the performances of Sir Toby (Michael Masterson) and Antonio (Rick Duplissie) whose characters wore costumes that had to create discomfort. Antonio, in a sword fight scene, wore a tight, heavy wool sweater, while Toby's character wore a coat for 90% of his performance. In uncomfortable conditions, their characters stayed true and never wavered. Only sweat running down their faces displayed their discomfort. Thankfully, Antonio's costume changed in the last part of the show. Duplissie's acting remained strong despite the discomort he had to endure. I enjoyed him.
Masterson portrayed Sir Toby with a broad comedic flair and boisterous attitude as his drunk, conniving character lead the cast and helped create the mayhem of the plot. Without his stong performance, the other characters would not hold the piece together. In each of his scenes, he connected with his fellow characters to create fun and games. Also, the comedic flair of Malvolio (Scott Shaw) keeps viewers entertained thoughout the play. Shaw portrays Malvolio as the biggest, pompous ass and target of Sir Toby's plot. Shaw masterfully creates the character that captivates the audience at the end of Act II and brings broad comedy to Act III when he reappears decked out in a hideous costume of yellow long stockings. His facial expressions, crisp delivery, and vocal cadence make Shakespeare not sound so stilted to audiences who may not be Shakespeare scholars.
My enjoyment continued with the performance of Duke Orsino (Andy Penn) who never ceases to amaze me with his acting skills and understanding of character. I have enjoyed Andy in heavy, adult drama and also in a comic farce. I looked forward to see him tackle Shakespeare, and I was not disappointed. His character, though not the lead, is pivotal to the plot. His facial expressions, reaction to dialog spoken to him, and his clear delivery were spot on in the show. Scenes where Viola (dressed as a man) falls in love with him and yearns for his affection are played with a sweetness and believability. How could he not see that he is a she in disguise? Yes, he does so masterfully. And when the deception finally unfolds, he reacts with heartfelt relief and surprise as the resolution. Penn should be working professionally.
As for the women in the show, Viola/Caesario (Alexandria Rose) recites Shakespeare with confidence, and her reaction/facial expressions help even novices understand Shakespearean speech. She confidently portrays the dual role of woman and woman in men's clothes. Her scenes with Orsino and Olivia are both funny and touching. The only weakness is possibly with volume at times. When facing sideways or when quiet, her lines were sometimes hard to hear. Her facial expressions and body movement help fill in the gap of volume. Rose is a very talented actress and adept at Shakespeare.
Olivia (Kelsey Matthias) delivers a good performance as a woman hitting on another woman (unbeknownst to her). Her scenes with Rose are both funny and touching. Her recitation of Shakespeare's verse was crisp, clear, and decisive throughout the performance. At the performance I attended, she tripped on her costume in one scene and never broke character. That helped win me over in watching her perform for the first time.
All in all the characters were well cast and talented. Of course, the aforementioned stood out to me. That is not to say the others were not their acting equals. In an ensemble like this one, all have to create strong characters for the show to work. I feel lucky that my initial viewing of Twelfth Night was such a professional production. Watch for the performances of the other good actors in the show who I also enjoyed: Nathan Bowman, Bianca Jordan, Garrett Larson, and Dean Kinsey. I shudder to think of a high school or less professional version of this tale. One weakness would cause the collapse of the show and the comedy within. I marvel at the professionalism of all the cast.
Great shows do not come from bad directors. As I watched, I could tell that the director took care and pride in his casting and direction. Nowhere will you find a mismatched actor and character. Along with direction, his assembled behind the scenes crew need recognition. Costumes, lighting, sound, sets, and music all contribute to an enjoyable evening of theatre.
If you like live theater, I encourage you to go to see this production. If you are not sure of Shakespeare, give this a try. It's a funny show. It's got great characters. It's got broad comedy performed by skilled actors.