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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
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
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
with director Hytner, with whom he brought new dimensions to
(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
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
is almost good enough as Orsino, somewhat more comfortable displaying
his handsome physique than he is revealing the complexity of his
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.
unlike her peers in the romantic roles, does more than merely
Shakespeare’s prose past the tip of her lovely nose, even when it
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
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
the stiffer countenance of Philip Bosco as the maligned
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,
Malvolio, a disliked stuffed shirt whose plight is actually the core
of the drama, comes off as purposefully studied and ultimately
It is a description that could also be used to describe this
Night." Also holding his own in the comic mix is David Patrick
Kelly, who contributes a good voice and the obligatory foolish
about as Feste, the serenading jester. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
Theater, 150 West 65 Street, 212-239-6200. $55-65. To August 30.
Before the advent of sinking ocean liners, falling
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
aloud more times than I would generally approve of. This, in spite
of having seen this play (so aptly but modestly dubbed
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.
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"
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
coincidences to which players and audience are subjected. This is
Shaw bent on titillating with every barb, quip, and curve he can
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
That there is a discernible and steady flow of chuckling before and
even after the hearty laughs induced by Shaw’s well-calculated
also says as much for the art of what is unspoken.
In a play where inertia is a built-in property, Martin places a
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
can. Robert Sean Leonard, who is probably the nearest thing the
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
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
dropped a portion of whatever on the floor. With the resourcefulness
of a pro soccer star, he swiftly, and without missing a beat of
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
Pels Theater, Broadway at 45, 212-719-1300. $50. To September 13.
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