"Twelfth Night, or What You Will" was the first shakespear play produced by the Folger Theater Group nine years ago.Now Folger returns with a new "Twelfth Night," the mirth mellowed with maturity, the high spirits carrying a haunting undertone.
in a director's program note, Louis W. Scheeder, the Folger's theater producer, observes: "There is 'mirth,' 'laughter' and 'youth' aplenty in "Twelfth Night, but there is also a sense of thier fragility."
This is the "What You Will" that the Folger Theatre Group brings to its new production of "Twelfth Night." It is not a rollicking romp, although the fun is still there with some of Shakespeare's most comic creations -- the pompus and conceited Malvoilo, the silly scalawag Sir Toby Belch and the silly Sir Andrew Aquecheek. But Feste, the fool, is no longer so much the clown as witty commentator on the ironies of life.
"Twelfth Night" turns on a plot of mistaken identities and misdirected passions with the young lovers happily paired off at the end after a series of preposterous comic misunderstandings.
It is the tale of Viola and Sebastian, twin brother and sister, each of whom believes the other has perished in a shipwreck. Viola dons male attire AND THE NAME cesario and enters into the service of Orsino,the duke of Illyria, whose love of the lady Oliva is unrequited. It becomes a tangled romantic quartet when Oliva falls in love with Cesario, who is really Viola and who loves Orsino.
Under Scheeder's direction, an able cast brings this mellowed "Twelth Night" to the stage beautifully. The production is an example of unselfish ensamble acting, with some of the actors in comic roles muting the robustness of their performances to keep the spirit of the production.
The Folger's new "Twelfth Night" production is the play of Viola and
Olivia with strong, spirited performances from Ellen Newman and Glynis Bell.
As Viola transformed into Cesario, Newman is a bright and cheeky youth. She swaggers about the stage in her male attire but there is always a touch a feminine softness lurking beneath the surface. Her face mirrors an impatience, not without humor, at Olivia's advances.
Bell's Olivia is lively and spirited. She flutters with new-found passion for Cesario. And she creates a delicious moment when she mutters "Most wonderful" as Sebastain, the twin brother appears with Viola-Cesario and it appears she may have her love in double.
If their roles are muted in thes Folger's new production of "Twelfth Night," the comic characters still have their moments with Shakespeare's mischievous word-play and scenes full of farce and pratfall.
davis Cromwell is the prim and pompus Malovolio, Olivia's steward who can be gulled into believing that his mistress loves him and particularly so when he wears yellow, cross-garterd stockings and an idiot grin on his face. Fool that Malvolio may be, Cromwell manages to invoke sympathy for the silly, stuffy steward as the victem of a practical joke. For malvolio, it seems true, as Feste observes, that the whirligig of time does bring revenge.
The rest of the cast does just fine in keeping the spirit of this mellow "Twelfth Night" -- Earle Edgerton, who is particularly good as the tipsy Sir Toby; Ralph Cosham, who prattles foolishly as the foppish Sir Andrew Aquecheek, and Maria, the devious wench who falsifies Olivia's letter to hoodwink Malvolio.
As the male of thse romantic quartet, Count Stovall and Eric Zwemer have lesser roles than the two women but do well by Orsino and Sebastain.
Everyone, down to the smallest role, handles Shakespeare's language with ease, style, and clairty. And Floyd King, who plays Feste, gives some poignant renditions of Shakespeare's songs, including one of the bard's loveliest, "Come away, come away, death."
scheeder makes imaginative use of two-level staging in the Elizabeth-style theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. "Twelfth Night" will continue through July 27 to offer a delightful summer divsersion in Washington.