Twelfth Night, The Shakespeare Theatre

Understand, please- Twelfth Night is probably my very favorite play. Oh, sure, I'll try and claim it's Hamlet from time to time so that I'll look profound at dinner parties, but really, at the end of the day, when all is said and done and I'm flat out of cliches, I just want some yellow stockings. And cross dressing. And songs. And brothers to NOT be in Elysium, but to be safe and whole and tying up what otherwise would have been a worrying loose end in the plot.

What can I say. I'm a sucker and I'm proud of it.

But I need to see a production that does justice to my play. My needs are great, but they are born out of love.

So when the season was announced last year and it included a Twelfth Night, my brow furrowed with what I'm told is an attractive blend of concern and optimism.

The big night came. How did my beloved fare in the hands of director Rebecca Bayla Taichman? And most importantly, why was Viola naked in every promotional photograph in the program?

The short answer? The play succeeded with all the panache of Viola herself.

There are some very good performances here- Samantha Soule does a lovely job as Viola. Tom Story brings a wonderful childlike quality to Sir Andrew- he's so blithely enthusiastic that even when he makes a mess of everything all over again, you can never find it in your heart to hold it against him, and there's something touching in his frailty and resiliance. Floyd King is a marvelous Feste- one of my favorite moments in Western theatre (no lie) is the final song of Twelfth Night, and King gave it every tentative nuance that it deserves. Yes, I thought to myself from my seat in the audience, yes. This is my play.

What is likely to draw attention, of course, is RBT's staging of the play. She comes up with some remarkably clever devices (her take on the 'box tree' is so much fun that you just go with it, and realise that's the point of the whole scene anyway) and startlingly lovely images, including the everpresent motif of rose petals.*

There are a few things that don't work so well, but on the whole? It's gorgeous and fun and a pleasure to watch. Gimmicky? Yes. But also gorgeous? Definitely. Twelfth Night is a good deal more subtle than this production would have it, but sometimes, a little spectacle does a body good.

* Note- the English major in me is confused about this imagery. The play itself notes its troubling aspect- 'For women are as roses, whose fair flower/ Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour.' Even though Viola goes on to agree with it, it's more than a wee bit misogynistic. Plus, rose petals only fall when the rose is dying, which isn't the sort of imagery you'd expect to see in a play where love is running rampant and blossoming (sorry) all over the place... Sorry, I'll stop now.


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