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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
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
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