Thursday, November 24, 2011

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

A Noise Within moved recently from their Glendale home into this ostentatious space in East Pasadena. From the outside one could mistake it for a municipal building of sorts.   One step into A Noise Within Theatre and one realizes this is an incredible space that will continue the tradition of excellent theatre in Los Angeles, California. 

Taking a walk around the sparse lobby, I imagine unpacked boxes behind the walls waiting to be put away. The lobby is itself a work in progress. The men’s restroom fits more than two. (Anyone remembering the Glendale bathroom will get a laugh out of that.)

Stepping into the lobby, down the stairs, one is suddenly swept into the glamour that is the Noise Within space. And it is a grand space indeed! Breathtaking! The seats are comfortable for this 6 feet 6 inch frame and every seat in this theatre is a great seat.

A Noise Within presents Twelfth Night, Or What You Will by William Shakespeare directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and runs through December 16, 2011.

True to form, for A Noise Within, this production does not waste time sweeping us into the production that is Twelfth Night.  Set in a Caribbean island, probably Cuba, this rendition of Twelfth Night is a visual delight.  It has the feeling of a huge spectacle.  Dancers bang their machetes against each others causing sparks to fly all over the stage.  And in these fireworks, beautiful women move their hips to a Caribbean beat.  The opening number is, by all accounts, spectacular!

The play takes place in the lovely town of Illyria when the Duke Orsino (Robertson Dean) is wheeled out naked for his afternoon bath.  Humidity from the afternoon sun gets the better of him and he soaks in his sorrow listening to music and feeling love for Lady Olivia (Abby Craden).

If music be the food of love, play on; - Duke Orsino

But Orsino is getting nowhere with Olivia. And Valentine (Jill Hill), his assistant, makes things worse by declaring that Olivia is still in mourning after the death of her father, and later her brother, and wants nothing to do with anyone, especially him.  

Meanwhile Viola (Angela Culner) washes up on shore of Illyria. Captain (Mitchell Edmonds) informs her that her twin brother was last seen floating on the waves “for as long as I could see.”  Viola is convinced that her brother is dead.

After pausing momentarily in grief, an ambitious Viola devises a plan to work for the Duke Orsino.  She asks the Captain to introduce her as a eunuch so that she may work under his under his employment.   The Captain agrees.

Meanwhile in Olivia’s house, Sir Toby Belch (Apollo Dukakis) and Maria (Deborah Strang) are engaged in a naughty exercise awaiting the foolish antics of friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jeremy Rabb), a witty and irascible drinking partner.  

At another location, sitting in a barber’s chair, the Duke of Orsino speaks to Viola (dressed as a man Cesario) and asks him to woo Olivia on his behalf.  Viola hesitates because she has her eyes on the Duke, but agrees to woo on.

In another part of the city, Maria confronts Feste (Anthony Mark Barrow), Olivia’s clown. It seems Feste is running off because the household doesn’t think he is “funny” anymore. But Maria believes Olivia needs humor and enlists Feste to get her past the dark days of losing her brother.  

Later Viola (as Cesario) calls upon Olivia. She explains to her that “he” is there on behalf of her employer, Orsino.  

Viola: Most sweet lady, -

Olivia: A comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it.  Where lies your text?

Viola: In Orsino’s bosom.

Olivia: In his bosom!  In what chapter of his bosom?

Viola:  To answer by his method, in the first of his heart.

Olivia: O, I have read it:  It is heresy.  Have you no more to say?

Olivia enlightens Viola that she does not love the Duke Orsino and sends “him” on his way.  But Olivia is fooled by the disguise and finds this “man” very attractive.  Olivia calls upon her steward, Malvolio (Geoff Elliott) to give Viola a ring and to have “him” come back tomorrow.

Meanwhile Sebastian (Max Rosenak), twin brother to Viola, is alive but in a dark place. He laments to his savior Antonio (Steve Weingartner), a sea captain (pirate) and friend, that his beautiful twin sister is dead.

Sebastian: …She is drowned already, with, with salt water, thought I seem to drown her remembrance again with more.”

Antonio: Pardon me, sir, your bad entertainment.

Meanwhile Malvolio, on his bike, chases down Viola and gives her the ring, Malvolio thinks Viola has left the ring with Olivia. But a moment later Viola surmises Olivia is in love with her as a man.  Viola, confused, hopes that time will sort all of this out.

Viola: “…Oh time! thou must untangle this, not I; It’s too hard a knot for me to untie!

Late that night Sir Tobey, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Feste and Maria are having a grand time partying late into the night.  But, a grumpy Malvolio in bedclothes interrupts the party.

“Sir Toby I must be round with you…. If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome to the house, if not, an it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell.” - Malvolio

Our partygoers will have none of this.  Malvolio needs his comeuppance. So Maria and Sir Toby devise a plan to write a letter, in Olivia’s handwriting, proclaiming love for Malvolio.

Meanwhile the Duke is desperate and sends Viola (the man) back again to Olivia with a piece of jewelry to show how much he is in love with her.  But while that is happening the Duke is having some strange feelings for Viola (the man).

Malvolio stumbles upon the forged letter and believes the letter, professing love, is from Olivia.  There are two things Mavolio must do to insure love’s conquest, wear the yellow stockings and the cross-gartered that she loves, and smile, smile, smile. (Okay, three.)

“If thou entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling; thy smiles become thee well; there in my presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.” – From the forged letter

Olivia sees Mavolio acting very strangely, and has him put away, in a nice quiet dark place, with a slit for light, caged like the sick animal he appears to be.

Later Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek do not like the relationship developing between Viola and Olivia. They devise a plan for Aguecheek and Viola to have a duel.  Of course neither Aguecheek nor Viola want to die and neither knows how to fight.  

Things start getting serious when Antonio, Sebastian friend, mistakenly thinks his friend is involved in a dual and decides to fight Aguecheek in Viola’s place.  The guards arrest Antonio as a prisoner of the Duke and send him away.

Later, Olivia finds Sebastian, mistakes him for Viola, and arranges a priest to marry them right away.

You might think these people were extremely nearsighted and or didn’t bother to wear glasses for all the mixing up of identities.  Still, this was a fun show and a joy to watch with delightful performances all around.  

Geoff Elliott as Malvolio gave an incredible performance. Looking like a character out of a Jean-Pierre Juenet movie.  Tall, thin, pasty white skin, skullcap with long stringy hair, bad teeth and arms hanging down below his kneecaps. He has a dour look for the first part of the performance and his voice rises and falls with each unwarranted action perpetrated against him.   It is the moment he breaks into a smile this audience will remember forever. This is a remarkable performance by a very gifted actor and one not to miss.

Robertson Dean as Orsino always gives a fine performance.  He can be subtle and extravagant with his physical actions on stage.  His objectives are clear and his nuance is readable.  He moves from one love to the next with only a slight hesitation that is marvelously projected to the audience.

Apollo Dukakis as Sir Toby Belch is always fun to watch.  He is physically gifted and very funny. He is the one to look out for when there is mischief at play.

Deborah Strang as Maria gets into as much trouble as the rest. She is always a joy to watch and a wonderful performer who takes risks and enjoys the consequences.  

Jeremy Rabb as Sir Andrew Aguecheek was just as funny as the rest.  The fight scene was just wonderful.  Still, I didn’t get the sense that he was really vying for the hand of Olivia.  He was Sir Toby Belch’s friend but didn’t get the sense that he wanted more, or wanted him to do more the move in the direction of marriage to Olivia.  Still, it was a marvelous performance.

Abby Craden as Olivia was a little worldlier than in The Comedy of Errors. I liked this performance - sort of a kindler gentler countess. Still, I believe, this is a role where appetence goes a long way.  Harsh, when she meets Viola (as a Man), she then warms to him (somewhere along the way) and decides to give him a ring. Subtle doesn’t work for this moment and imagination needs to be taken to an extreme. Extreme desire would be two good words. She desires Feste, the clown. She needs him to help her get past her grief of her brother’s death.  She needs Viola for a husband and she needs the priest to marry them immediately, before he gets away.  (She’s a very needy person.)

Angela Gulner as Viola did a very nice job. (This goes back to the many comments I make in this blog: Was Mary Martin convincing as Peter Pan? No.) Did Gulner convince me she was Cesario?  Not really.  But I believe this character must try to convince herself she is a man and make mistakes to show us she really is a woman. One doesn’t see the mistakes that are necessary for the role to take off. There’s a lot to be said about love and the trouble it gets one into with mistakes along the way.  We need a lot more love and a lot more mistakes.

Anthony Mark Barrow was quite charming as Feste but one did not get a clear picture of his objective.  It’s obvious he wanted something he wasn’t getting or why would he be leaving the house and trying to get away from Olivia? Why do they drag him back into the household?

Mitchell Edmonds has dual role of the Captain and the Priest. Edmonds is a fine actor with very good physical skills.

A man usually plays Valentine, Orsino gentleman; Jill Hill is used in this production. While there is no problem with her portrayal, she needs a stronger objective, a stronger point of view, and an idea of what the character wants to make this role her own.  Still, the role was nicely done.

Max Rosenak as Sebastian was fine in the role as Viola’s twin.  Like the wave that sweeps him away after their ship breaks apart, he is swept up in events happening on land.  He hasn’t got a chance but he needs to realize that he needs to fight the wave or be swept up and whatever comes his way is only gravy.

Steve Weingartner as Antonio did a very fine job. Still there’s more here than meets the eye. His love for Sebastian knows no bounds and he is willing to risk his life for him. It was a fine performance that needed more of the pirate.  Also he needs to find out the life he is rescuing is not his friend.

Other members in the cast were Alison Elliott as Curio, Max Lawrence as Fabian, Patrick Connolly, Alex Galicia, Diana Gonzales-Morett, Heather Roberts and Simmin Yu.   This was a very diverse cast and added an important background to the fine action going on around them.

Julia Rodriguez-Elliott the director did a very nice job. It’s a wonder she able to stand with the move, rehearsals, and everything that goes in in producing and directing this type of show. There are a lot of amazing things in this show!  Some moments need tweaking but that’s expected in any show.  This was a marvelous job. 

As always, Kurt Boetcher performs small miracles as the Scenic Designer.  The marvelous Costume Design was by Angela Balough Calin.  The Lighting Designer was by Ken Booth.  Very nice Fight Choreography by Ken Merckx.

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