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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for U.S. 1 Newspaper’s

edition on July 26, 2000. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `Twelfth Night’

by Simon Saltzman

Two impoverished actors pretend to be a gentleman and his servant and

expose hypocrisy as they affect some good in Ostrovsky’s "The Forest,"

the rarely seen and well-produced play that opened the New Jersey

Festival’s 2000 season, continuing through Sunday, July 30.

Mistaken identities have long served as a delicious dramatic device,

but rarely has it been used as well to illuminate the foolishness of

sexual role-playing as it is in "Twelfth Night." It is goodbye to the

land of the balalaika and hello to the islands of the bouzouki in

Joseph Discher’s Greco-Illyrian cool-looking and folk-song infused

staging. To the ardent plunking of bouzouki player Vaslis Tsoukalas,

the lights come up on set designer Troy Hourie’s dreamy aqua-toned

vision of Illyria, Beneath the stars and moon-lit dome of his palace

patio, Duke Orsino is having his feet massaged by a male servant.

Understandably this, if not necessarily the sweet compositions by

Illyria’s house composer (and the play’s director), prompts him into

his rapturous speech "If music be the food of love, play on." It is

this opening tableau that establishes the faux eroticism that marks

this production, and our first and lasting impression of a

compulsively languid Tom Delling, as Orsino. But, beyond this

impression of a sentimentalist whose self-absorption ventures into

acts of foolishness, is the impressions made by the three leading

ladies, each of whom are making their Festival debuts, and each of

whom make this "Twelfth Night" unexpectedly captivating.

The courting of wealthy and titled lady Olivia by the personable but

dull Duke Orsino of Illyria becomes complicated by the arrival of

Viola, a young girl who masquerades as a page to the duped Duke after

a traumatic separation from her twin Sebastian during a violent storm

at sea. Viola unwittingly falls in love with the Duke only to discover

that Olivia has fallen head over heels in love with her as Cesario,

the page. The inevitably plotted arrival of look-alike Sebastian to

Illyria, who, instantly smitten with ardor upon seeing the fair

Olivia, creates a series of comical burlesque encounters that provide

a stage for "What You Will."

If the "What You Will" story seems more than a little strained and

incredulous at best, Discher’s direction is inclined toward making

less of the play’s gaiety and charm, and more of its borderline

madness. A seasoned Festival actor and the director of "Travels With

My Aunt" on the Festival’s Other Stage, Discher is making his main

stage directorial debut. It’s a good one. He has, to his credit, seen

to it that the actors keep apace with the inanity if too rarely the

frenzy of the plot. Keeping up with Shakespeare’s mixture of parody

and poignancy is not an easy task for any director, seasoned or

otherwise.

The play’s playful jokes and innuendoes are most impressively realized

in the three principal women. As Viola, Loren Lovett is, from the

minute she is washed ashore (somewhat unbelievably), a delight. She

continues, through the sexual ambiguities of this dark romantic comedy

to makes her boyishness as passively seductive as her femininity.

Caralyn Kozlowski’s beautiful form and face is no distraction from her

boldness and the comedic charms that make the otherwise foolish Olivia

appealing. The betwixt and between romantic exchanges between the two

(when Viola is the supposed Cesario) don’t risk our consideration of

anything more than an arbitrary romantic dalliance. As trouble-brewer

Maria, Ryan Dunn lights up the stage with her bright, feisty and lusty

presence. Notwithstanding the tongue-in-cheekiness of it all, it is

the homo-erotic that underlines Orsino’s attraction to Cesario that

seems to propel the amorous misunderstandings in this production.

Edmund Genest stands his ground as the unsparingly brutalized surly

and "affectioned ass." If we see how the mostly forlorn yet clownish

Feste, wonderfully played by James Michael Reilly, demonstrates how

useful the mind can be when opportunely exercised, we also get a

glimpse of how mindless minds can be as inanely expressed by Malcolm

Tulip, as Sir Toby Belch, and Jeffrey M. Bender, as Sir Andrew

Aguecheek. With all due respect to the sounds of the bouzouki, I came

out whistling Isabel Rubio’s colorful Grecian folk costumes.

— Simon Saltzman

Twelfth Night, F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater, 36 Madison

Avenue, Madison, N.J. $24 to $38. 973-408-5600. Through Sunday, July

30.


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