Sunday, May 20, 2018

Twelfth Night (Parson’s Nose Theater 2018 Production) Theatre Review

Production photo
Twelfth Night is one of William Shakespeare’s most enjoyable plays. It’s a fun, light, breezy ride, with some delightful characters and plenty of laughs. The new production at Parson’s Nose Theater, directed by Lance Davis, stresses those lighter qualities and features a fairly talented cast. The play has been shortened to a running time of approximately ninety minutes, and yet the cuts were chosen well, as we are not missing any major sections. The only somewhat significant character to be cut is Fabian, his lines given to Feste. The set is rather simple, with a backdrop of a bright bay behind a series of three arches. Four strings of lights above the stage give it a festive air.

The play opens with a brief hint of the storm, done by sound and light cues, as the order of the first two scenes has been reversed, so that we begin with Viola (Jordan Christine Knapp) arriving in Illyria. The production uses modern dress, and Viola is in a yellow rain slicker, hat and boots. What’s interesting about that, of course, is that these are rather manly items of clothing, or at least neutral as far as gender is concerned, so when she later appears as Cesario, there isn’t as drastic a change in her look as there usually is. When Orsino (James Calvert) appears, he has a drink in hand, and is accompanied by Curio and Valentine, who sing for him. As this is a modern setting, Valentine answers the phone, and delivers his message to Orsino from that phone conversation (by the way, the phone is from the eighties, not a cell phone), rather than having come from Olivia’s home.

When we first meet Maria (Mary Chalon), she appears to be quite business-like and serious, both in her dress and demeanor. Nearly Olivia’s entire household is in dark clothing, perhaps following Olivia’s lead in mourning attire. That is, except Sir Toby Belch (Gary Lamb) of course, who wears a lighter colored suit. When Olivia (Taylor Hawthorne) says, regarding Viola as Cesario, “Let him approach,” she shares a look with Maria, then happily puts on the veil. So her ongoing mourning is clearly a bit of a ruse, which is interesting. Maria also dons a veil, to help in Viola’s confusion as to which is the lady of the house. Jordan Christine Knapp is absolutely fantastic as Viola in this scene. On her “Excellently done,” we see Viola’s disappointment, which is great. She sees that what she thinks of as her competition for Orsino’s affections is striking. We really see Viola’s love for Orsino in this scene. Knapp can do a lot with just a look or expression, and does so throughout the production. She is something of a joy to watch.

Also particularly good in this production are Lance Davis as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Barry Gordon as Feste. When Toby and Andrew enter at the beginning of Act II Scene iii, they sing a line from “99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall,” obviously not in the original play. And in fact, most of the music used in this production is modern. For example, in that scene, Feste sings “Three Coins In The Fountain” rather than “O Mistress Mine.” When Feste enters for that scene, he is drinking from a flask, making him feel more like one of the boys in this production, rather than more aloof and separate. There is a key reason for this, that being that he also takes on the role of Fabian since that character is cut from this version. Everyone is quite good in this scene, and I love Toby’s delivery of the “cakes and ale” line. On Andrew’s “I was ador’d once too,” Toby and Feste exchange a look, which is nice. And then during the scene with Viola and Orsino, Feste sings “Some Enchanted Evening.” He has a really good voice, by the way.

Because it is a modern dress version, the characters don’t generally carry swords. So for the duel between Andrew and Viola, Toby has to force a sword into Viola’s hand. Hers is much longer than Andrew’s, but when Andrew taps his dagger against Viola’s sword once, it is enough to cause Viola to drop it, thus making a quick end to the fight. Sebastian too is without a sword, but easily disarms Toby. There is, as expected, a lot of humor to these would-be fights.

The character of Malvolio can sometimes steal the show, and there are a few moments when John Rafter Lee as Malvolio does go a bit over the top. But he is also a total delight, even before picking up the letter written by Maria. He rolls his “R” at one point, getting a big laugh from the audience. Even though the focus is on Malvolio in the scene where he reads the letter, one of my favorite moments is when Andrew realizes Malvolio is talking about him. His delivery of the “That’s me” line is perfect. Malvolio says “Here is yet a PS” rather than “Here is yet a postscript.” And he makes a great effort to smile. In this modern dress version, Malvolio later wears yellow and black socks with garters, his pants carefully rolled up. In that scene, he chases Olivia about the stage until Maria steps between them. Malvolio is a character you love to hate, but then often feel some sympathy for by the end. In this version, he appears in a straitjacket, standing center stage, rather than locked in a cage or dark space. Of course, being in a straitjacket, it seems odd for him to ask for pen and paper, for how would he be able to write? And his line “By this hand, I am” likewise feels odd. But there follows a touching moment when Feste undoes the straitjacket from behind him.

The reunion scene is handled well, with a nice stage picture, Viola and Sebastian at opposite sides of the stage, with Orsino and Olivia between them, slightly upstage. Orsino says “thy women’s clothes” rather than “thy women’s weeds.” Because Fabian is cut, we lose the funny bit where Olivia takes Malvolio’s letter from Feste to give to Fabian. And Feste repeats “greatness thrust upon ‘em” rather than saying the slightly varied “greatness thrown upon them.” Malvolio delivers his curse out to the audience, as we are all complicit in his mistreatment, a nice touch. Though the rest of the music used in this production is modern, the play does conclude with its traditional number, sung by the entire cast.

This production of Twelfth Night runs through June 10th. There is one ten-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act II. Parson’s Nose Theater is located at 95 N. Marengo Ave. in Pasadena, California (at the corner of Holly and Marengo).

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