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2010 Fringe NYC Roundup #4
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2010 FringeNYC Roundup #5

Twelfth Night

The Shakespeare Theatre Company's "Free For All" production of the Bard's play is fun for all.

By Washington, DC
Tom Story and Floyd King in Twelfth Night
(© Carol Rosegg)
Tom Story and Floyd King in Twelfth Night
(© Carol Rosegg)
Contemporary sensibilities and broad humor make Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Twelfth Night, at Sidney Harman Hall, a perfect match for the company's 20th annual "Free for All" offering. In this production -- directed by Alan Paul based on Rebecca Bayla Taichman's original 2008 staging -- the convoluted plot and Elizabethan dialogue are quite accessible to those who might feel uncomfortable with Shakespeare.

As in Taichman's production, the use of the rose petal motif still acts as a guide to the emotional development of the characters. Every time someone falls in love, rose petals flutter from the heavens; by intermission, they're coming down in clouds. Post-intermission, the cool land of Illyria, setting for the intertwined love stories, is smothered in massive rose petal murals, the scarlet hues obscuring the wintry fabrics and reflective silver floor designed by Riccardo Hernandez.

But Paul's approach is to paint with a broader, brighter brush than the previous version; the characters have less edginess, and any darker impulses some may possess are lightened.

Viola (Christine Pumariega) is shipwrecked and washes up at isolated, melancholy Illyria. Certain that her twin brother Sebastian (Randy Harrison) is dead, she disguises herself as a man named Cesario. She soon finds herself helping Duke Orsino (Gregory Woodell) woo Lady Olivia (Sarah Agnew). But Olivia falls in love with "Cesario" instead, even as Viola has fallen for the Duke. Sebastian eventually shows up, of course, adding to the identity and gender confusion.

The romantic leads are properly earnest, wide-eyed, and fetching, but it's left to the vividly strong supporting cast, notably Philip Goodwin as Olivia's pretentious manservant Malvolio, Chuck Cooper as affable and usually drunk Sir Toby Belch, Floyd King as the jester Feste, Tom Story as foppish, foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and J. Fred Shiffman, as Olivia's servant, Fabian, to propel the story. (The moment when three conspirators try to deliver a fake love letter to Goodwin's Malvolio on a park bench is a true comic tour de force.)

The show is great to look at and listen to. Miranda Hoffman has costumed the cast in exaggerated Victorian style costumes; Christopher Akerlind's dynamic lighting uses Hernandez's reflective, off-kilter background to create an ever-changing series of moods; and Martin Desjardins' original score evokes emotion. It also allows King to sing several times, providing unexpectedly bittersweet moments in counterpoint to the levity of this free-for-all that's fun for all.


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