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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Folger's 'Twelfth Night' rocks Capitol Hill

At Folger's Theatre's Twelfth Night, Richard Sheridan Willis is Malvolio who tries to learn how to smile while James Konicek as Sir Andrew Aguecheek spies on him. Willis's performance is worthy of a Helen Hayes Award nomination/Scott Suchman 
It was the most enjoyable Shakespeare I have seen.

Bar none.

Hands down.

No exaggeration.

Twelfth Night at the Folger Theatre is a hit, a lark, a delight, and everyone feels good at the end, including the gal in my row who caught the bridal bouquet and squealed like a little piggy with several of her friends. And I would have squealed, too.

It's a fantastic ride in a land of make-believe, built on the shipwreck of the Lusitania from World War I in the kingdom of Illyria on a set which doesn't change, but there is so much action, who cares or needs change? It was brilliance by the director, Robert Richmond, and his "creative team" who conceived the landing.

The photographer's perfect timing of the shots and the airy leaps in unison made for mouth drops. The characters run around the stage hither and yon, just like those actors from the silent films of the era, but this is live. It's played upon a stage now, and carried off with aplomb.
And so much music. If ever there was a Shakespeare with more, which is it? Thank goodness we get to hear Joshua Morgan (Valentine) play Debussy's Claire de lune  more than once on the piano. If music be the food of life, play on.

The Twelfthth Night cast could have danced all night to the tunes played by Feste (Louis Butelli) on the ukulele and Valentine (Joshua Morgan) on the electric piano/Scott Suchman
Oh my gosh: Richard Sheridan Willis as Malvolio. A show stealer par excellence. He was simply fantastic. His eyes almost rolled out of his head. Those moments when he tried to smile could have cracked Congressional communication and cooperation. Send him to the Hill! (Wait, he's there.)

What did he lay upon inside the piano? It hurt to look at him cooped up inside the metal cage for so long. It looked so uncomfortable. Poor lad. I began to really feel sorry for him. Does anyone remember the great actor Peter Lorre? A resemblance, no?
Okay: the story (briefly): Twins are shipwrecked, and each believes the other has drowned. Viola makes it to shore where she lands (ahem) a job with Orsino who is in love with Olivia who soon falls in love with Viola who becomes a man, Cesario (to obtain his job), who falls in love with Orsino. Of course.

Malvolio is smitten by Olivia, and Viola's twin brother, Sebastian, turns up at the perfect moment, and Olivia invites him to marriage (thinking he is Cesario), and this all makes sense, doesn't it? An improbable madness rather like life which all goes round and round, up and down, like the swirling waters in the fantastic first scene when the siblings almost drown.
Rachel Pickup seemed so natural in her role of Olivia, she must have been playing herself. (?)

In Twelfth Night Olivia (Rachel Pickup) falls in love with Cesario/Viola (Emily Trask)/Scott Suchman
And I haven't mentioned the supporting cast, dominated by James Konicek (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) who flutters about and steals the thunder.

There's a lot of action up and down the center aisle, too, and another show-stopper who served as musical narrator of sorts was Louis Butelli, master ukuleleist who plays Feste who became entranced by an audience member in the second row, a woman who may have been part of the exquisite cast, too, but that was unlikely since she seemed genuinely flattered. Whatever you will. All's well that ends well.

Another feather in the play cap is the costuming (Mariah Hale). For lovers of Victorian dress, they will adore the gowns. Olivia's are marvelous, darling, especially the bridal gowns at the end which are only on stage such a short time. (Which reminds me: At the DAR Museum (Constitution Hall) over on D at 17th is a terrific exhibition of women's fashions of the 1920s. It's free!)

But back to the subject at hand: The choreography (Eleni Grove) and fight scenes (Casey Kaleba) made me wince several times, fearing the swords were real, and the sounds of the clashes soon gave me to know they were. Or flashed like they were.

And the title: Twelfth Night derives from the twelfth night of the Christmas season, the Epiphany on January 6, the end of the season's merrymaking, somewhat like Mardi Gras when foolishness, gaiety, and fun cease (for a while). So have at it what you will, but hurry for the time draws nigh when these frolics do end.
By the way: I wonder if the designer/artist for the program cover based his or her concept on Ophelia by John Everett Millais, likely the most popular piece in the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition which just ended at the National Gallery of Art. They are very much alike.

(Sshhhhhh….for non-Shakespearean scholars (a minority in this town, but keep mum), we all know that Bill's content can be difficult at times to keep up with, what will all the characters, multiple plots, sub-plots, love triangles, quartets. It does help and adds much to the production's enjoyment to read SparkNotes in advance (3X; it's not long). Available right here which permits readers to mentally straighten out the characters, their roles, and who does what, when, and where, and makes for better grasp of the quick action than that usually gained by reading the synopsis in the program notes while you wait for the show to start. (And you'll score 100 on the test, too, at the end, but who's counting?) Try it and see what you think.)

And now for the nominations:

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Helen Hayes Outstanding Director, Resident Play: Robert Richmond

Helen Hayes Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play: Richard Sheridan Willis
Helen Hayes Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production: Mariah Hale
What: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

When: Now through June 9 (dark Mondays) with matinees also on Saturdays and Sundays

Where: Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, D.C. 20003

How much: $39 - $60

Metro stations: Union Station or Capitol South

Duration: About 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

For more information: 202-544-4600 or (ticketing) 202-544-7077

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