`You Never Can Tell’

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This review byu Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

August 19, 1998. All rights reserved.

Review: `Twelfth Night’

Like a great sprawling Persian rug, designer Bob

Crowley’s

richly-hued and delicately-patterned setting boasts water lilies that

float in deep tranquil pools, and shallow waters that ripple through

winding canals. The water is real and quite the active player. It

is the main visual treat in director Nicholas Hytner’s sumptuous

staging

of Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night."

Into this watery Illyrian terrain frolic the actors, some of whom

spend as much time getting wet as getting wooed. Once again in

collaboration

with director Hytner, with whom he brought new dimensions to

"Carousel"

(also for Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater), Crowley’s vision

of Illyria, in this instance, outshines Hytner’s dramatic designs.

Using as it does, the age-old device of a girl disguised as a boy

to create an arena in which mistaken identities might illuminate the

foolishness of sexual role-playing, "Twelfth Night" remains

a popular item. Maybe this alone is the clue behind the clusters of

popular entertainers who periodically attempt to make the quantum

leap into the canon’s mouth.

Television’s "Mad About You" star and Academy Award-winner

("As Good As It Gets") Helen Hunt has been smartly guided

through the role of Viola. If Hunt’s sweet and unaffecting acting

style is no cause for celebration, it is also no cause for alarm as

she comfortably assumes male disguise and demeanor. Although she is

no stranger to the stage, Hunt’s presence and performance appears

more carefully guarded than courageously gregarious. The courting

of wealthy 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.

Paul Rudd, who has made good impressions on Broadway ("The Last

Night of Ballyhoo") and film ("The Object of My

Affection"),

is almost good enough as Orsino, somewhat more comfortable displaying

his handsome physique than he is revealing the complexity of his

character’s

melancholy. What is naturally strained and incredulous in Shakespeare

becomes natural and practical in the youthful Rick Stear’s Sebastian.

And we are impressed by the actual resemblance of Stear to Hunt, a

feat that refreshingly gives no consideration to offbeat casting.

In yummy harem attire (the costumes by Catherine Zuber

are dazzling), Kyra Sedgwick is delightfully spirited as Olivia.

Sedgwick,

unlike her peers in the romantic roles, does more than merely

communicate

Shakespeare’s prose past the tip of her lovely nose, even when it

gets wet.

But this is a production that primarily focuses on the acting artistry

of Brian Murray, as the riotous Sir Toby Belch, and Max Wright, as

his dim-witted sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is for the

hilariously

on-a-constant-bender Murray, and for the bemused and befuddled Wright,

to remind us of the kind of odd-coupling rapport made legendary by

Laurel and Hardy.

Happily, their bravura shtick does not compromise our pleasure

watching

the stiffer countenance of Philip Bosco as the maligned

"affectioned

ass," Malvolio, as he succumbs to the unkind plot machinations

as devised by the clever servant Maria (robustly played by Amy Hill).

When he isn’t showing off his yellow knee socks and short pants,

Bosco’s

Malvolio, a disliked stuffed shirt whose plight is actually the core

of the drama, comes off as purposefully studied and ultimately

endearing.

It is a description that could also be used to describe this

"Twelfth

Night." Also holding his own in the comic mix is David Patrick

Kelly, who contributes a good voice and the obligatory foolish

prancing

about as Feste, the serenading jester. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Twelfth Night, Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont

Theater, 150 West 65 Street, 212-239-6200. $55-65. To August 30.

Top Of Page
`You Never Can Tell’

Before the advent of sinking ocean liners, falling

chandeliers,

and helicopter landings, theater was mainly talk. The better the talk,

the better the play. And no characters — certainly in any plays

that have utilized the king’s English since Shakespeare — could

talk as well as those created by George Bernard Shaw.

I mention this only to remind you that "You Never Can Tell,"

currently revived on Broadway by the Roundabout Theater Company, is

all talk, and literally nothing but talk. And delectable it is too.

This splendidly acted and staged production proves you need do no

more than lend an ear to have a good time. I surprised myself by

laughing

aloud more times than I would generally approve of. This, in spite

of having seen this play (so aptly but modestly dubbed

"pleasant")

more than a few times.

When Shaw wrote "You Never Can Tell" in 1897, he was only

41, but already an enfant terrible of the literary realm.

"You

Never Can Tell" is neither Shaw at his best or worst, but it does

represent a quaintly naive Shaw, who, as our theatrical heritage seems

to prove, is better than no Shaw at all.

Although this production, under the more than "pleasant"

direction

of Nicholas Martin, does nothing to erase the feeling that the play

itself is a rather pedestrian exercise in motor-mouth proselytizing,

the neo-Edwardian charm is always in evidence. More importantly, its

charm is applied lavishly and immodestly by Martin to all the

precocious

coincidences to which players and audience are subjected. This is

Shaw bent on titillating with every barb, quip, and curve he can

conjure

on the subjects of voguish socialism, women’s emancipation, and family

traditions as they affect a most untraditional family.

In 1998 "You Never Can Tell" remains a somewhat strange and

at all times superficial play. Yet it nevertheless takes on a sort

of grateful, even self-satisfied, composition, every time one of the

actors succeeds in making sense out of one of its long-winded

speeches.

That there is a discernible and steady flow of chuckling before and

even after the hearty laughs induced by Shaw’s well-calculated

witticisms

also says as much for the art of what is unspoken.

In a play where inertia is a built-in property, Martin places a

welcome

emphasis on the subtle but sustained use of comical body language.

The fine cast responds by making sure that every little movement has,

indeed, a meaning of its own. Helen Carey (who played the mother in

Emily Mann’s production of "The House of Bernarda Alba" at

McCarter Theater last year), does as much well-intentioned tampering

with the otherwise colorless role of the matriarch as any gifted

actress

can. Robert Sean Leonard, who is probably the nearest thing the

legitimate

theater has these days to a young matinee idol, is quite splendid

as the dashing "five shilling dentist" who innocently but

methodically drills his way into society and into the heart of the

beautiful, but priggish, Gloria. And who could resist the well-bred

gracefulness of Katie Finneran’s Gloria, even as she is made out to

be incurably neurotic and distrustful.

Catherine Kellner and Saxon Palmer, as Gloria’s clownish sister and

brother, have fun being alternately obnoxious and

astonishingly

ill-mannered. It is hardly a stretch for the versatile Simon Jones

(who played Sherlock Holmes in "The Mask of Moriarty" at Paper

Mill Playhouse last season) to give a well-developed reading of his

role of Crampton, the discarded and deplorably misunderstood husband.

Charles Keating, as the seen-too-much, heard-too-much waiter makes

the most of the preposterous chain of non-events by being immediately

endearing and hilariously entertaining. At the performance I caught,

Keating, while serving luncheon with the prescribed haute

panache,

dropped a portion of whatever on the floor. With the resourcefulness

of a pro soccer star, he swiftly, and without missing a beat of

dialogue,

side kicked the comestibles through the open veranda door. Would that

the hilarity of that classic moment could be captured forever.

Nicholas Kepros, as the stuffy family friend and solicitor, and Jere

Shea, as the humorously brash barrister son of the waiter, acquit

themselves far better than I suspect the script demands. Set designer

Allen Moyer captures the fresh air-iness of a seaside hotel terrace,

and costumer Michael Krass sewed plenty of neo-friskiness into his

turn-of-the-century costumes. The play takes place on a fine summer

day. And what a fine summertime play this is. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

You Never Can Tell, Roundabout Theater Company, Laura

Pels Theater, Broadway at 45, 212-719-1300. $50. To September 13.


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