Abigail Bailey Maupin in Twelfth Night, Photo by Molly Sensenbrenner
Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Matt Wallace
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
There are no crickets in the background, no police sirens or jets on approach to the airport to drown out the actors, no nearby tennis games, and no muggy weather to contend with, but, make no mistake about it – this IS Kentucky Shakespeare.
Matt Wallace’s new production of Twelfth Night is the first indoor, winter production from the outdoor Shakespeare festival, the oldest free festival of its kind in the U.S. It also requires you buy a ticket. Besides the padded seats and air-conditioning there is also a picaresque set borrowed from Kentucky Opera. Donna Lawrence-Downs’ plush costumes are standard issue for this company, and they fully complete the textures and color that nicely realize the picture-pretty Elizabethan setting.
Wallace gives us a solid, traditional and very funny rendering of the story of Viola (Katherine Martin), in disguise as a man named Cesario, falling in love with Olivia (Abigail Bailey Maupin), while Duke Orsino (Jeremy Sapp), who is supposed to be smitten with Olivia, curiously feels drawn to Cesario/Viola. On this point the production may be a little too traditional: the production soft-pedals the sexual ambiguity in that attraction so that the sudden explosion of passion in the climax almost comes as a surprise, even if it does earn a big laugh. It seems a missed opportunity to exploit the relevancy of the text to contemporary experience and the players seem up for it; and Mr. Sapp’s Orsino suffers the most from the choice.
The subplot covers Sir Toby Belch (Brian Hinds), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Tony Milder), Fabian (Crystian Wiltshire), Feste (Alec Volz), and Maria (Georgette Kleier) and their prankish tormenting of Olivia’s servant, Malvolio, (Gregory Maupin). This adroit group of players earns every laugh, with especially fine work from Mr. Hinds, who displays a sure and confident understanding of one of Shakespeare’s greatest clowns, and Mr. Maupin, who creates an intriguing and light-footed version of a most pitiable character. Alec Volz captures the world-weary strength of Feste, the one character who avoids being anybody’s foil, standing apart from the emotional chaos of the story.
The staging was mostly clean and straightforward, although the unorthodox, albeit creative, placement of Malvolio’s interrogation scene in one of the voms (entrances below the audience) managed to be effective because of Mr. Maupin’s performance. Sight lines for the action were compromised by the Bomhard configuration, making Malvolio difficult to see for much of the audience, but the actor’s vocal work, supported by simple but strikingly atmospheric lighting (by Theresa Bagan) and evocative sound design (by Laura Ellis), largely overcame the problem.
Language is an unavoidable and crucial aspect of assessing any Shakespeare production, and as fine a cast as Wallace has assembled here, there are a few moments where some actors struggle a bit to capture the full intention of the words. Katherine Martin was one, though otherwise her Viola seems all that it should be – a dynamic character full of charm, wit, and energy. Jordan Price, very authoritative and masculine as her twin brother, Sebastian, is another. In spite of this observation, both actors accomplish good character work and hit the correct notes emotionally.
Speaking of macho swagger, Kyle Ware’s brief time onstage as Antonio, Sebastian’s servant, is notable for the other serious injection of masculine authority, thrown into high relief following the most hilariously ineffectual and tepid sword fight between Cesario/Viola and Aguecheek. Sly dog Jon Huffman easily steals his brief scenes as the Priest, upstaging the whole works for a moment with expertly executed comic business.
And before you worry that I have overlooked Abigail Bailey Maupin, I will confess that there was a scene in Act Two between Olivia and Cesario in which every syllable uttered, every move and gesture, was such an example of astonishingly assured and expressive technique that she took my breath away. Ms. Maupin had been very fine up until that point, but the performance rose to a heightened level at that instant and was by itself justification for the modest ticket price.
Musical Director Jack Ashworth arranged music played on Elizabethan period instruments by John Aurelius, Anna Blanton, and Michael Vettraino that beautifully sealed the deal on the whole production.
Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)
January 5-10, 2016 @7:30pm
at Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Tickets available by calling 502-584-7777 or visiting http://www.kentuckycenter.org/all-shows/twelfth-night
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.