TheaterHop: Twelfth Night
Written by Bwog Staff
Catch the final performance of Twelfth Night at 8 o’clock tonight in Barnard’s Minor Latham Playhouse.
Rebecca Guy and Ralph Zito’s interpretation of Twelfth Night may be traditional, but it offers an entertaining showcase of some of Barnard and Columbia’s finest acting. The play is full of scrambled genders, intricate love triangles and drunken debauchery – themes that too often lend themselves to overacting. But, the current production does not suffer from these common pitfalls.
Thanks to many of the actors’ eloquent intonation, the audience easily comprehends Shakespeare’s meaning and wit. But Jill Usdan’s deliberate elocution unfortunately comes off as haughty. Her dry performance as Olivia is demure, but uninspired and misses the silliness and vanity essential to her character. With lines as blatantly promiscuous as “Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better,” it’s clear Usdan could do more with the material.
Adding a hint of melodrama, Kara Feely dresses the cast in luxurious costumes – a mix of Spanish lace, gaudy rosary beads and billowy genie pants. Set against Betsy Adams and Elizabeth Noth’s colorfully designed stage, Zito and Guy’s vision of Twelfth Night comes to life in a flourishing courtyard.
What is most remarkable about the production is that Guy and Zito excel where the script challenges the most. Indeed, Helen Cespedes’ truly impressive performance as Viola greatly aids their efforts. In the guise of Cesario, Orsino’s pageboy, Cespedes perfectly balances a plucky resourcefulness with a tremulous, woundable quality that increases your emotional investment in her. The audience winces as she inadvertently and awkwardly cozies up to her master, Orsino (Garrett Blair). First, there is a tender sigh, then a loving gaze and finally Orsino’s hand creeps across Cesario’s thigh with a provocative caress. Cespedes and Blair handle the intensity of the moment with skillful restraint and draw out the painfully suppressed passion. Singing in an overpowering alto, Feste (Amanda Rodhe), however, disrupts this beautifully built tension. Her voice may be operatic, but it is too forceful for the gentleness of Shakespeare’s ballad. Her stiff performance as Feste makes it clear that Rodhe is a singer, not an actress.
Nevertheless, the directors show that they know how to spin the classic comedy into freshness. Under Zito and Guy’s direction, Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, played by Sam Riesman and Nahuel Telleria respectively, make a hilarious and surprisingly endearing duo. Riesman plays up Toby’s drunken slur and delights the audience with a consistent maniacal leer. Telleria brings an adorable foppishness to his performance that gives his subsidiary character unforgettable vitality.
Despite his repeated attempts to prove his brawn and brains, Sir Andrew has ferocity and mental capacity of a flea. In this way, Telleria’s Andrew perfectly reflects a Viola’s line earlier in the play, “We men may say more, swear more, but indeed, Our shows are more than our will” – indeed everyone in Twelfth Night is not quite as they seem or say they are. In a wild moment, Sir Andrew finds himself face to face with Antonio, played by the powerful Austin Smith. Swords clash, Andrew shrieks, Antonio bellows – pandemonium breaks out and all the characters’ affectations break down.
Malvolio, played by the ridiculously be-whiskered and lisping Zachariah Sheppard, like Telluria and Cespedes, could easily steal all his scenes. That these actors choose not to is a reflection of their skill and the maturity of their talent. Offering an intelligent and admirable rendering of the original comedy, the current production of Twelfth Night guarantees a good time and asserts that KCST is not the only campus company capable of successfully performing Shakespeare.