I don’t go to productions of Twelfth Night lightly.
It is my favorite Shakespeare, it is so often butchered with unwarranted gimmicks and egotistical choices made for the sake of “originality,” and it frankly is often so distastefully done that I just simply avoid the damn thing. That said!
Will Block will rule the theatrical world before the rest of us realize what’s happened. His direction and leadership of this show so clearly focuses every ounce of energy on telling the story as effectively as possible while allowing the space for the actors and audience to play (what are these things called again? These things we sit in a room to watch? These things that the actors are in that we’re watching? What are those called again?) that the product is nothing short of peacefully and gleefully fantastic.
Twelfth Night is a problematic text (he said as though that’s not said of every Shakespeare play). There are many traps and pitfalls to which the unwary director or actor may fall victim. Mr. Block’s direction here, though, skirts these challenges beautifully.
First and foremost I would like to commend the creative team for their diverse casting of this play. With a show like Twelfth Night where characters are mistaken for one another (Comedy of Errors also has this challenge and how), so often the appearance of the actual actors themselves becomes the focus of casting (rather than, you know, acting). Not the case here! Viola (Madison Dahm) and Sebastian (Roger Hernandez) look NOTHING alike, and yet by the end of the show I was willing to mistake one for the other simply by the color of their shirt and style of their hat.
Reminiscent of Michelle Hensley’s Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company model of “All The Lights On,” the audience is implicit in the action of the play, and often mildly actively involved as well, giving us the sense that we are truly part of the action. Whether by necessity or design, the inclusiveness of the intimate production gave a feeling of safety while wariness, one never knowing how we may be involved next.
Shout outs must go to Madison Dahm as Viola, Shayna Maci Warner as Feste, and Matthew McLaughlin as Sir Toby Belch. Dahm’s sincerity and longing were as endearing as anything I’ve ever seen; by the middle of the show you just want to give her a hug and promise her that it’s all going to work out in the end, just to hang in a little longer. I can think of no greater sentiment to feel for Viola. Warner’s Feste induces the play lovingly with guitar in hand and song on tongue and leads us along, our sometimes reluctant but always ready navigator through the ridiculousness that surrounds her at every turn. And McLaughlin’s Toby was grounded like a thousand-year oak; steadfast in his commitment to each and every moment of honest discovery as his fooling wound itself into the tempest that inevitably leads him to regret the wrongs he and his companions have committed against Malvolio and the rest.
A hearty congratulations to everyone involved in this production and may it run again!
What I didn't like
While many of the playful comedic bits were wonderfully executed, some of the added elements did tend to drag unnecessarily, leaving the audience in silence for a few beats too long at a time. And in a production wherein the vast majority of the transitions between scenes and locations were entirely seamless, those breaks in the action became more noticeable. They were also amplified by the sheer length of the production. Though it hurts a piece of my soul every time I have to cut a line from a text, three hours just feels long, especially for a Fringe show.
All of that said, if that’s the biggest criticism I can come up with, hot diggity damn, that’s impressive!
My overall impression
A clean, clear, and crisp presentation of one of Shakespeare’s more challenging texts.