Performing the works of William Shakespeare is difficult. Each play has been portrayed many hundreds of times, in many hundreds of configurations. The lines can seem like archaic tongue twisters, infused with rhymes and rhythms and even the occasional song. The words themselves have been cherished for centuries by scholars and laypeople alike. Keeping the Bard’s plays fresh, yet still pure, for contemporary audiences is no easy feat.
Last night I watched a talented group of performers and crew tackle Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedies. A part of Threshold Repertory Theatre’s Summer Shakespeare Workshop, Twelfth Night succeeded in entertaining the audience, and proved itself worthy.
Like I said, though, Shakespeare is hard, and the difficulty was quite apparent in the show’s opening minutes. Life spoken in iambic pentameter requires a few minutes of audience adjustment, but cast members rushed through early lines at breakneck speed. Initial interactions blurred, and characters were hard to distinguish. Normally, this wouldn’t be a significant problem, but Twelfth Night is a comedy of mistaken identities. Those first introductions to the characters need to be strong.
But as time passed, the cast, for the most part, settled into their roles. The play found its groove, and I figured out who was who, though I’d still caution the cast at large: Slow down. Savor the lines. Take your time and take a breath.
Feste, played by Tommy George, a veteran of the Threshold stage, was a highlight of the show. He played the fool, minus his motley in contemporary clothes, with a clear, strong voice and a calming presence on the stage. Not exactly what you’d expect from the fool, but in Shakespeare’s plays, all is not always as it seems.
Carri Schwab as Olivia, the prickly object of Count Orsino’s (Jay Danner) affections, was a lovely presence on the stage. She glowed, quite literally at the end in her flowing white wedding gown, as she traded sassy banter with the rest of the cast.
Shakespeare’s comedies often rely on verbal sparring, but in this production it was the physical comedy that drew the biggest laughs. The drunken stumbling of Toby (Michael Kordek) and Andrew (John Black) was cause for chuckles. The willingness of Peter Ferneding, as Malvolio, to don banana-colored tights, fishnet hose, and a garter belt, prancing around like a misshapen ballerina, was ballsy on many levels, and the crowd roared.
To freshen up the 400-year-old play, Miles Boinest, making his Charleston directorial debut, kept the set light and beachy, more Charleston than Illyria. The costumes were contemporary, though still classic. There were no jeans on this stage, though Toby’s hole-ridden T-shirt provided an example of his slovenly character’s aesthetic.
Boinest interspersed contemporary, quirky music throughout the scene transitions. I heard Regina Spektor, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and, in one memorable, drunken scene, the backbeat of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” This kept the show light and fun, and kept the audience engaged.
As the playbill indicates, the production of Twelfth Night is part of the Summer Shakespeare Workshop, and you’ll see different actors playing the women’s roles on different nights. If you’re dying to see the other cast perform, bring in your program and they’ll sell you a second ticket for only $5. It’s a good deal, and one I’d consider taking.
I was happy to see the house was packed for Twelfth Night. The Bard holds a special place in my heart, and it’s great that so many people turned out to see his work performed. With such a passionate group of thespians on stage, I know they didn’t walk away disappointed.