Encore Stage & Studio; theatre by kids, for kids, presents a youthful revision of Twelfth Night. Adapted especially for Encore by Caroline Schreiber and Elizabeth Pringle, this beachy twist is a great way to introduce your child to the works of Shakespeare. Pringle leads a team of talented young actors in a production that is relatable and fun while honoring its classic legacy.
Technical Director Kristen Jepperson and Student Technical Director/Set Designer Kara Fagerstrom use a black box theatre for this production, which adds another level of depth and complexity to an already ambitious undertaking. The audience sits on three sides, which makes the setting is an intimate one, and the young actors must use a wider variety of blocking methods than they would with a traditional stage. The set is made to look like a luau; dotted with palm trees and surfboards and strung with colorful lanterns and tiki torches.
Large prop pieces are wheeled on and offstage throughout the production, from picnic tables and lawn chairs to a full snack bar. Composer Matthew Heap and Sound Engineer Drew Moberley do a great job with beachy sound effects, while Lighting Designer and Master Electrician Caitlin Orzechowski gives the stage a sunny, tropical glow. Debra Leonard ties together the effects by dressing the cast in fresh, summery colors and Hawaiian shirts. It’s a cheerful and laid-back atmosphere, but when a storm upends a pair of surfer siblings and washes them ashore, this fun-loving island is in for some drama!
Separated by her brother, a scared and intimidated Viola (an excellent performance by Caroline Burnham) decides to disguise herself as a man named Cesario so that she may be more easily accepted into her unknown surroundings. This adventurous new place is run by a man dubbed “Dude”(Shakepeare vets will get a chuckle out of this) Orsino, played by Kevin Cabral. Viola falls instantly in love the dude, but cannot express her true feelings or her true self. What follows is a tangled plotline of mistaken identities, romantic mix-ups, trickery, and slapstick comedy.
These young actors are in the early stages of molding their craft, but the skill shown onstage by young thespians is impressive overall. While some of the prose can be rushed and jumbled (especially during dramatic scenes), the majority of the cast projects the lines clearly and confidently, which is not the easiest thing when dealing with Shakespearian diction. Mila Fox-Parola is great as Olivia, a uppity young woman who falls for Viola while she is disguised as Cesario, and shows real raw talent during an especially emotional scene.
Louisa Martial delivers some great lines (and music!) as the Fool, a character who ironically may be the wisest amongst them, delivering the exasperating line “nothing that is so, is so!” Robert Gessel also gets a lot of laughs as the haughty Malvolio, Olivia’s straight-laced admirer who later finds himself the subject of a cruel prank. The scene stealer in this production, however, is Hannah Torma as Andrew Aguecheek; her expressive delivery and hilarious onstage presence is what I will remember most.
Reset as if it were a 1960’s beach movie (complete with the dance moves shown in a heated “dance-off” scene), Encore Stage & Studio’s production of Twelfth Night is a great way for kids to embrace Shakespeare without the intimidation that usually comes with it. While the dialogue can be tough to follow at times, it is not impossible; the adaptation is condensed and lightened enough to make the plotline clear. These kids are in very capable hands, and the spoils of such solid guidance and mentorship is revealed onstage. And with warm summer fun looming around the corner, this is a great opportunity to welcome in the season!
Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Twelfth Night plays through May 22, 2016 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154 or purchase them online.