“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.
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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
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/.
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.
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).
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.