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PlayMakers Rep’s Production of Twelfth Night Is Entertaining, But Offers Nothing New

Allison Altman and Jenny Latimer star as Viola and Olivia in PlayMakers Rep's all-star presentation of Twelfth Night (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Allison Altman and Jenny Latimer star as Viola and Olivia in PlayMakers Rep’s all-star presentation of Twelfth Night (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“What is decreed must be; and be this so.” Countess Olivia’s point is well-made: what is meant to happen will happen. This appears to have been PlayMakers Repertory Company’s philosophy when staging its new production of Twelfth Night. Follow the playbook.

Originally written for the close of the Christmas season, circa 1601-02, Twelfth Night, or What You Will has become one of the most beloved and oft-staged plays in William Shakespeare’s canon. It is performed so frequently that one wonders why a company would bother — unless, of course, there is a new perspective to share.

You may have never seen or read the play, but doubtlessly you are familiar with its cadences. The strong-willed Viola (a goofy and sympathetic Allison Altman) disguises herself as a lad named Cesario in order to become close to Duke Orsino (a stiff Myles Bullock). The Countess Olivia (a funny but inconsistent Jenny Latimer) falls in love with Cesario, but everyone in this play is so determined to be heterosexual that any potential love goes unrequited.

In director Jerry Ruiz’s version of this play, the “secondary” characters turn primary as they far outshine the leading players. Bradford Cover’s colorful, Charles Nelson Reilly-esque Sir Toby Belch is worth the ticket price, while Geoffrey Culbertson’s precisely timed Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Julia Gibson’s subtle but sassy Maria complete a comedic holy trinity that deserves its own play.

<em>Twelfth Night</em> stars Jenny Latimer as Olivia and Michael Keyloun as Feste (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Twelfth Night stars Jenny Latimer as Olivia and Michael Keyloun as Feste (photo by Jon Gardiner)

More vagabond than clown, Michael Keyloun’s Feste is surprisingly tender. Eschewing Shakespearean convention, Keyloun’s sad, singing clown provides more heart than laughs. As expected, Ray Dooley’s much maligned Malvolio hits all the right notes. The play’s oft-forgotten Antonio garners much attention via Tristan Parks’ Sammy Davis, Jr.-style characterization. It is one of this production’s most unexpected and captivating performances.

Director Jerry Ruiz’s early 1960s setting is an interesting choice, though somewhat inexplicable. Composer Jack Herrick has expertly set the Bard’s verse to music for a handful of songs, but arbitrary snippets of background score are more distraction than enhancement. The inclusion of The Twelve Days of Christmas, while mildly clever, feels too wink-wink.

Perhaps, the neutered sexual politics of the mid-19th century help justify the rushed Act V wrap-up. With some restaging, and perhaps some unashamed textual surgery, Twelfth Night could become a satire on heteronormativity and the prescription of gender roles. Unfortunately, an opportunity for exploration is missed, as PlayMakers choses not to smudge the 415-year-old ink.

As a boy, Viola is adored by Olivia and ignored by Orsino; but once her disguise is removed, the Thor-sized hammer of heterosexuality comes crashing down, jostling the characters into their proper pairings.

PRC's Twelfth Night cast includes (from left) Jenny Latimer as Olivia, Julia Gibson as Maria, and Ray Dooley as Malvolio (photo by Jon Gardiner)

PRC’s Twelfth Night cast includes (from left) Jenny Latimer as Olivia, Julia Gibson as Maria, and Ray Dooley as Malvolio (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Scenic designer Tim Mackabee has fabricated a multipurposed static playing space downstage, with three beach loungers and hanging wicker chair. However, the mostly obscured upstage lanai is not integrated into the main playing space and borders on useless. And why is all the furniture on stage yellow, when an entire subplot rests on the notion that Lady Olivia abhors the color? Porsche McGovern’s upstage lighting is equally perplexing, but the majority of the set is lit appropriately and helps clarify time and place.

Costume designer Anne Kennedy has done beautiful work, with a flare for color and silhouette that highlight the diverse troupe. Sound effects, designed by Anna Warda Alex, are well-chosen and well-placed, though too quiet.

Overall, the performances are solid, with all major beats in place. The farcical elements are the show’s strongest, while somber moments often drag. Some inconsistencies in design and a drowsy opening half-hour keep Twelfth Night from being anything extraordinary. A reminder for local theaters: we do have access to 37 of the Bard’s full-length works. Perhaps, Twelfth Night can take a sabbatical, alongside A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth.

Allison Altman and Myles Bullock star as Viola and Orsino in Twelfth Night (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Allison Altman and Myles Bullock star as Viola and Orsino in Twelfth Night (photo by Jon Gardiner)

SECOND OPINION: March 1st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Bryon Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/twelfth-night/Event?oid=5373253. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 1st Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/03/playmakers-rep-opens-its-all-star-modern-dress-production-of-william-shakespeares-twelfth-night-on-march-1st/.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents TWELFTH NIGHT at 2 p.m. March 5, 7:30 p.m. March 7-10, 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 11, 2 p.m. March 12, 7:30 p.m. March 14-18, and 2 p.m. March 19 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 general admission ($10 for students with ID) on Community Night (Tuesday, March 7th and 14th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/twelfth-night/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7th.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 8th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12th, performances.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 11th (for more information, click here).

NOTE 5: The North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show Mindplay psychoanalytic discussions on “Doubling Down on Loss and Love in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,” led by Harold Kudler, MD, after the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19th, performances.

OTHER LINKS:

Twelfth Night, or What You Will (c. 1601-02 comedy): http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/Texts/TN/ (Internet Shakespeare Editions) and and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/doc/TN_M/scene/1.1/ (Internet Shakespeare Editions).

Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/twelfth-night-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).

Jerry Ruiz (director and PlayMakers Rep associate artistic director): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/jerry-ruiz/ (PlayMakers Rep bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews

3 Responses

  1. I find Dustin Britt’s reviews to be generally full of fair observations, even if they might be tersely or unkindly worded at times.

    But I’m writing to object to Mr. Britt’s writing reviews at all. As he is an actor in the local theatre scene, I am curious about how he can write a review truly free of bias. If, for instance, Mr. Britt has no meaningful hope of working for PlayMakers anytime soon, he has space and inclination to hold that company’s work to a higher standard. Whereas if he was going to review a theatre company where he did hope to work — or maybe recently had worked, whether the experience was positive, negative, or indifferent — his reviews might be colored accordingly. He’d have no interest in angering a producer responsible for casting him, for instance. Therefore, the appearance is that he’d be harder on PlayMakers and easier on a theatre where he’s more likely to be seen on stage.

    I don’t mean to suggest Mr. Britt shouldn’t have an opinion on locally produced theatre, or even that his opinions are woefully misplaced much of the time — I think I probably agree with more of his observations than I don’t. However, the appearance of impropriety here cannot be overcome.

  2. Dear Anonymous Person,

    1. I am open to criticism and I thank you for your post.

    2. Thank you for reading my reviews.

    3. It is impossible to write a review truly free of bias. For any critic on earth. If one lives in the area, he/she is always at risk of interacting with or being influenced by others in the community of practice. Perhaps a director personally attacked the critic. Perhaps an actor has participated in some scandal. The opportunities for bias are myriad. However, I am aware of the biases that come from being an active member of the theatre community and work very hard to push against it. I will not always succeed. There are critics who have far more biases for/against certain companies or artists than I myself have developed.

    4. I do not write reviews with the intention of sucking up to any artist or tearing down a specific artist for personal gain and/or revenge. If I felt that strongly about an individual, I would not review the show at all.

    5. I hold all local companies to high standards. PlayMakers Repertory Company is held to a particularly high standard by local critics because it is a professional theatre company with paid, union artists. These are people who do this for a living. The criticism must be more stringent.

    5. Producers do not cast actors. You are thinking of directors.

    6. Some of my reviews that are deemed the most “negative” are of productions by companies with whom I have strong positive ties. I have criticized the performances of close friends, directors I admire or with whom I have worked, and of companies I plan to audition for in the near future or have worked with in the past. I have given glowing reviews to actors, designers, and directors with whom I have had extremely negative personal experiences and I have given glowing reviews of shows for which I auditioned and was turned down.

    7. I have written reviews of most companies in the triangle areas including professional theatres, touring shows, community theatres, and collegiate productions. All have received due praise and due criticism based on their work. All of my reviews mention both positive and negative elements of a production.

    8. I can only assume that something in the Twelfth Night piece is particularly irritating to you, since with nearly 60 articles published in the last 11 months, this is the first I’m hearing of this issue. I can only assume you have some connection to PlayMakers or someone involved in the production, since you appear to be irritated by my holding them to a “higher standard.”

    9. I have been accused, in the past, of holding community theatres to a standard that is far too high and that I should “take it easy” on the hard-working volunteers in the community. But that would be neither fair nor productive.

    10. There are at least a half-dozen other staff writers for this very publication that are also actors and directors in the community. I can only assume they have not written a piece that was particularly irritating to you.

    11. I do not make a career of theatre criticism. Nor of acting. I am paid for neither and do both merely as a hobby. My livelihood and happiness do not depend on the opinions of others as far as either endeavor is concerned. I review the shows I choose and audition for the shows I choose. I know of no director in town that would cast me in a show for which I was wrong simply because I wrote a positive review of his/her show. I can’t imagine someone jeopardizing their production by casting someone that was wrong for a part for such a shallow reason. On the flip side, I can most certainly imagine not being cast in a show that I criticized. It has probably happened already. But I would rather not work with an artist who does not want to work with me. That is a risk I am willing to take. Frankly, most of the directors I’ve spoken with really don’t care what critics think about their shows.

    12. I have written reviews for many companies with whom I’ve worked: Sonorous Road, Women’s Theatre Festival, Raleigh Little Theatre, Bare Theatre, North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, and Theatre in the Park.

  3. Phenomenal cast, great direction. Dustin Britt’s review was unduly harsh, picky and annoying. Clearly he missed Jenny Lattimer’s open and comic consideration of both romantic possibilities. Lighten up and enjoy a great show, dude.