The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2350  Monday, 15 October 2001

From:           W. L. Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 14 Oct 2001 21:50:15 -0400
Subject:        Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's Twelfth Night

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's Twelfth Night, directed by Jasson
Minadakis, opened on October 11 and will close on November 4.  The
elegant set (designed by Will Turbyne) consists of a gorgeous,
three-doored, and many-mirrored rear facade, a pond-cum-fountain upstage
right, and a scattering of autumn trees. The pond is a multipurpose
fixture which becomes a fountain in Orsino's presence, a prison for
Malvolio, a mirror for most characters, and a receptacle that "Receiveth
as the sea" (1.1.11) rings, money, Toby's empty wine bottle, and Sir
Andrew's foot. The costumes (designed by Heidi Jo Schiemer) are vaguely
late nineteenth century.

Nick Rose plays Malvolio as an entirely sympathetic character.  His
initial confrontation with Feste (1.5.83-98) is good humored rather than
mean spirited, and when he reprimands Toby and his inebriates
(2.3.86ff.), his tone is perfectly reasonable. In the letter scene
(2.5), Malvolio is not a silly ass, but a good servant who may
legitimately look forward to wedding his mistress.  In prison (4.2), he
is more sinned against than sinning --and he steals the final scene.
Here he presents his case with dignity, and his last words -- "I'll be
reveng'd on the whole pack of you" (5.1.378) -- are spoken directly to
Fabian, who stands as representative for Sir Toby and his crew.  Olivia
quickly says, "entreat him to a peace" (380), and he is not allowed to
leave the stage.

Sir Toby Belch (Drew Fracher) is the Mad Hatter -- plainly indicated by
his hat.  Sir Toby does not, as he often does, look like the traditional
Falstaff, but is bald and thin. As he moves through the script, he
becomes increasingly sinister and sadistic. When Malvolio is imprisoned,
Toby gratuitously torments him by throwing water in his face.  The
script generally supports this reading of Toby, but Drew Fracher is
perhaps the meanest Toby I've ever seen.

Olivia, played by Angela Groeschen, is sexually liberated by Viola's
touch.  When Viola says, "I hold the olive in my hand" (1.5.209-109),
she holds Olivia's hand -- and this begins Olivia's sexual awakening.
Olivia is comically vibrant and active, ready for love, and comes on to
Cesario and/or Sebastian with fervor.  When Sebastian and Cesario meet
in the final scene, Olivia joyfully says, "Most wonderful!" (225), and
the audience laughs knowingly.

I heard one of the auditors call Viola (Anne Schilling) a "bitch."
Possibly this judgment is a bit harsh, but Viola in this production
seems unusually cold, possibly because Olivia projects such warmth. I
think it's interesting that Viola drags Orsino onstage in the final

Feste (Jeremy Dubin) is a wandering minstrel with a bowler hat -- a hat
that Malvolio assumes when he is imprisoned and still wears at play's
end. Feste is low-key, smiling, bitter-sweet, understated, with his
instrument slung over his shoulder. I find that I don't have a great
deal to say about Dubin's Feste, except that he is truly excellent.

Brian Isaac Phillips  -- with bright red coat -- does not play a foppish
Orsino. Rather he plays a mopping and melancholy (though hardly mad)
lord. He is supremely inactive, contemplatively bent over his bubbling
fountain. Others act for him.

Sherman Fracher's Maria (and, yes, she is indeed married to Sir Toby) is
perfect, but not surprising.  Giles Davies who usually is quite
surprising, plays a conventional enough slapstick Sir Andrew.  Sebastian
(Jason Bruffy) is the handsome young lover (who comes in shirtless and
covered in love bites after his first encounter with Olivia).  Fabian
played by Christopher Guthrie is, as usual, impossible to place. Where
did he come from? Why is he here? He is one of the puzzles of the play.
Antonio (David McCallum) is obviously infatuated with Sebastian, but, in
this production, to no avail.

The production ends with Olivia and Orsino leaving the stage together
hand in hand through the central door (rear), and Sebastian and Viola
sitting at the pond holding each other tightly.  I find this ending
troubling and intriguing, but certainly unclear.  Are we to assume that
like calls to like, that the twins are finally together as they should
be, and that Orsino and Olivia have come to realize that their fling
with look-alike lower class lovers is over?  Or?

Yours, Bill Godshalk

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