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Monday, 03 June 2013 18:42

Things are not what they seem

Written by Bob Wilcox
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The Details

L-R: Andy Paterson, Haas Regen, Eric Hoffmann
L-R: Andy Paterson, Haas Regen, Eric Hoffmann / J. David Levy

"Twelfth Night" is one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has mounted a splendid production of it in the Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. It has comedy high and low, true love whose course runs not unbearably rough, a generous sprinkling of music, and a happy ending shaded with a pleasant touch of melancholy.

Twelfth Night does require the usual suspension of disbelief when the playwright asks you to accept that a pair of twins are being mistaken for each other even if the two actors don't look all that much alike. The suspension effort increases in Twelfth Night because one of the twins is a girl, though, like so many of Shakespeare's comic heroines, she's dressed as a boy. But for me, the effort is worth it.

Duke Orsino thinks he's in love with the Countess Olivia, but he's really in love with being in love, and it's delightfully amusing how easily that love begins to attach itself to the attractive young man he's just hired as one of his servants. The young man is, of course, really the young woman Viola, shipwrecked and disguised in male attire for her safety. She is more than ready to respond to any affection from the duke. But when he sends her to court Olivia for him, that lady is bitten by the love bug too. That turns out all right when Viola's twin brother Sebastian shows up, though we're entertained by much confusion along the way.

Olivia's stern steward Malvolio, in love with himself, suffers deliberate confusion at the hands of Olivia's kinsman Sir Toby Belch, who's sponging off his niece and off his feckless friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The brains behind the plot against Malvolio is the countess's handmaiden Maria, and the scene of the gulling of the steward by means of Maria's forged letter, as staged by director Rick Dildine, builds laugh upon laugh.

Anderson Matthews' portrait of Malvolio is a masterpiece. He establishes a pompous figure ripe for a comic fall, yet leaves room, finally, for us to pity him in Dildine's treatment of the closing song, when the director brings all the lovers and losers onto Scott C. Neale's romantic set.

Each cast member establishes a clear and solid figure: Kimiye Corwin as the brave and bewildered Viola, Joshua Thomas as the ever-loving – but whom? – duke, Leslie Ann Handelman as the determined countess, Eric Hoffman as party hearty Sir Toby, Haas Regen as the befuddled Sir Andrew – but what a dancer! – Candice Jeanine as the clever Maria, Vichet Chum as Viola's stalwart twin Sebastian, Michael James Reed as the sea captain who loves him, and Gary Glasgow as the friendly gardener Fabian. Most charming of all is Andy Paterson as Olivia's very clever jester Feste, the fine-voiced singer of much of the production's original music by the Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra.

In a rare misstep in the production, director Dildine didn't find a satisfactory solution to the problem of where to locate Malvolio's dark prison cell. Nor did he and costume designer Dottie Marshall Englis find a way to display Malvolio's fancy dress, given his non-Elizabethan attire, that was true to his character. But what they did do gets a big laugh, and the cast look great in what I take to be regency period dress.

John Wylie designed the lighting, Rusty Wandell the sound, and Suzanne Mills was the voice and text coach for a very well-spoken and thoroughly delightful "Twelfth Night".

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