Be not afraid of greatness, for some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. The audiences of The Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s Good Will Tour Production will be having the greatness thrust upon them as Twelfth Night is presented in true Shakespearean fashion, alive and under the stars out in the great wide open. The company is indeed not afraid of greatness and lives up to the fullest potential one could hope for when bringing one of the Bard’s great comedies to life. Mistaken identities, shipwrecks with twins, unrequited love; it’s all there wrapped neatly in the packaging of Shakespeare’s eloquent words, revitalized with this in-your-face spirited rendition. Directed by John Bellomo, this performance pays homage and tribute to the roots of Shakespeare while bringing it forth to a modern audience in a way that is both amusing and engaging.
Costume Designer Wendy Walker keeps things simply, Shakespearean but simple. Letting the audience know that we’re in a classic Bard comedy with the standard bright coloring in the fashion of the day allows the audience not to get caught up in the finery and frippery of outfits so that they can focus more readily on the plot and humors of the show. Walker does however keep Olivia well suited to her rich countess ways, particularly with the lush lacy garments when attempting to fully seduce Viola in guise.
Working with Director John Bellomo is Text Coach Jared Mercier. Without taking too liberal of an approach to the words, both Mercier and Bellomo ensure that the production is easily accessible to those with no prior Shakespearean experience. The production is delivered with the standard Bard vernacular but done in such a way that the emotions readily translate through the heavy outmoded jargon and speech patterns. Rhythms are clear and executed with simplicity to maintain focus on the events of the story. And even during moments of microphone failure voices are more than readily heard across the wide sprawling lawn that serves as the house.
If music be the food of love then this company is certainly delivering the excess of it with their musical interludes (performed by various performers in the show) both before the show and during intermission. The voices are melodious, the songs subdued and help to set the pacing and tone of the show while also providing entertainment for the passing interval. It is becoming more and more popular to see music woven into the Bard’s works, but this company does so with elegant tact and graceful taste.
Wingus Dingus and Twit were never more thoroughly found than in the three idiots that traipse about in this production. Sir Toby Belch (Charlie Retzlaff) Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Andrew Clotworthy) and Feste (Neel Madan) comprise the show’s terrible trio of buffoonery. Like the Three Musketeers they are occasionally accompanied by a mischievous fourth, Maria (Erin Branigan) making them a quartet of cataclysmic comedy. Branigan sets the plot in motion to humiliate the obstinate and prickly Malvolio, and does so with a devilish tongue that belays her wicked actions.
Madan, as the court fool or everyone’s fool is jovial but sharp witted, particularly when it comes to his tongue. Making his presence known in both a physically and intellectually comic way, he bounces about from scene to scene adding mild hints of humor to the already hilarious show. As for Retzlaff and Clotworthy, they develop two richly riotous characters, Clotworthy adapting his knight to be a bumbling buffoon of a jock and Retzlaff taking his drunken shenanigans to physical extremes, his gait the epitome of being sloshed beyond recovery. The pair play well off one another making for a rip-roaring good time as they dally throughout the audience and often trip each other up on stage with their tomfoolery; a prime example of how to really have some fun with Shakespeare.
Malvolio (Steven J. Hoochuk) is the exact opposite of all the fun had by the aforementioned crazies. Aptly described as a ‘party-pooper’ Hoochuk keeps a rigid physicality for the duration of the show. Except for when the madness of love doth overtake him, turning him into the babbling equivalent of a twitter pated clown. The physical and emotional shift between his two personas is sharp and drastic, making his yellow stockings look sane and normal by comparison.
‘Tis Olivia (Lynette Rathnam) and her fair countenance that Orsino (Trevor Brown) doth seek. Given only momentary lines at the beginning and end of the play Brown exudes pure emotional expressions into every spoken word. He is consumed by the burning fires of lust and love and makes it known with every bend of his body and every flex of his brow. As for Rathnam, she is the epitome of a shrill shrieking harpy who knows her beauty and riches lie above all and does her best to flaunt them while remaining an ice queen save for whom her heart doth beat, which of course is not Orsino. Her words are clipped and fierce, ripe with anger and full of passionate hatred. But she quickly sings a different tune, melting into love struck oblivion when meeting with Viola (Sarah Olmsted Thomas) in disguise as a young male page.
The physical scene between Rathnam and Thomas, with the former in sexual pursuit of the latter, is the funniest moment in the production. The physicality of it blows the scene into an epic over the top melodramatic moment of sheer hilarity. Watch closely as Thomas just keeps running up that long campus hill and back down the stairs and all across the world to escape. Thomas’s portrayal of the guised Viola is perfection, her delivery of the classic ‘ring’ speech confounding and perplexing as it was intended to be. She triumphs in this role with great success.
So forget thee thy troubles, come and enjoy the comedy of disguises this summer.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.