Twelfth Night, or What You Will
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kaia Monroe Rarick
Performed by Capital Classics on the campus of the University of St. Joseph, Asylum Street in West Hartford, CT through August 12.
I like my Shakespeare like I like my dining experiences and classical music concerts – indoors, air-conditioned and mostly insect- and child-free. I know this makes me a curmudgeon, but I don’t want to have to worry about things like lugging my own furniture, bug spray or relative humidity when I’m trying to take in Shakespeare.
As I headed to West Hartford for Capital Classics’ new production of Twelfth Night, the grey and thunderous clouds should have worried me. Instead, I was happy because I knew they were going to have to move the show indoors. Fortunately for Capital Classics, they are blessed with both a lovely indoor and outdoor space on the campus of the newly-anointed UNIVERSITY of St. Joseph. The College itself seems to have graduated, as has Capital Classics with this merry production of one of Shakespeare’s most delectable comedies.
Unburdened by some of the tonal shifts that one finds in the Bard’s As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night is pretty much start-to-finish comedy. Like The Comedy of Errors, it features twins, confused identities and a shipwreck.
The action commences when a ship from Messaline bearing the siblings Viola and Sebastian has washed up on the coast of Illyria, separating the twins. Fearing her brother dead, Viola (with the help of a sea captain) dresses as a male page and indentures herself to the Count Orsino. The Count uses Viola (now christened Cesario) as a messenger to his beloved Olivia, a beautiful noblewoman who is in mourning. Olivia, naturally, rebuffs Orsino and falls for Cesario.
Olivia’s house staff and family complicate matters merrily until Sebastian, Viola’s lost twin, arrives to further confuse the plot. Director Kaia Monroe Rarick keeps things moving at a clip and has ensured that the actors have clearly delineated characters. Setting the piece in the early decades of the 20th Century does little to enhance or detract from the piece and seemingly works fine.
The four romantic leads are all fetching and serviceable. Caroline Stommes, although never easily mistaken for a male, is comfortable in her part as Viola/Cesario. One wishes she had a little more fun with her subterfuge and a little more chemistry with her Orsino, played by Nicholas Pollifrone. Heather Stanton excels as Olivia, moving ably from stern and snippy to besotted and girlish.
The quartet of secondary leads are, as a whole, more assured. Geoffrey Sheehan as Olivia’s steward Malvolio is a delight , vacillating from imperiousness to goofiness to enraged. Laura Sheehan, as Olivia’s handmaid Maria (pronounced “Mariah”), reveals her ease with Shakespeare’s language and an adeptness at comedy. Unfortunately, she is given an unflattering blouse-and-dress combo, the only misstep in Vivianna Lamb’s otherwise smart costuming.
Michael Nowicki makes a fine, bellowing Sir Toby Belch. Although a little shy of the good spirits one would expect from this loud drunkard, Nowicki brandishes his beer stein and cunning equally well. The standout in the cast is young Ben Cole as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, one of Shakespeare’s finest comic creations. A deluded suitor for Olivia’s hand, Cole rings every possible drop of humor out of the befuddled fop and quickly became the audience favorite. So good in Hartford Stage’s recent Tempest, Cole further evidences a strong future on the stage.
David Regan as Feste the fool provides lovely musical moments throughout. While not containing the darker edges that one would expect in this character, Regan’s Feste seems to be a gentle, tolerable clown that shuttles around the action in the play.
The transition of the outdoor lawn production to an indoor proscenium worked fine. Capital Classics has designed this Twelfth Night to be gimmick-free, thereby putting the text in the center where it belongs. I know many of the attendees were disappointed to miss their outdoor experience, but this solid, sunny rendering seems like it would be welcome most anywhere.