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Monday, May 6, 2013

Folger Theatre's Twelfth Night

I just saw the Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night.

It was fantastic!

If you are in or near Washington, D.C. you must see it!



I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do like to share my thoughts about the Shakespeare productions I am seeing.

I can’t recommend this highly enough.

I have seen the play before. I think the play is very amusing.

This version made me laugh out loud!

I wasn’t the only one -- the whole crowd was enjoying it. Especially after the intermission, the second half was almost non-stop laughter.

The cast was excellent, and they worked quite well together. They all seemed well suited to one another, and as a whole, they were a great ensemble.

Also, all of them exploited the text for humor very well. 

I don't want to single out any of the actors. They are all so good.

However, I do want to tell you about two performances and what they mean in context of the history behind the play.

Richard Sheridan Willis played Malvolio. He also played the Chorus and other roles in the Folger’s recent production of Henry V which I saw

Mr. Willis was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and has had a lifelong love of the Bard.

It shows in his performances. I count myself fortunate to see his work on stage, as he possesses a rare talent in communicating Shakespeare’s language.

And boy is he funny!

The letter-reading scene is hilarious!

Louis Butelli played Feste. He was great as Bardolph in the Folger’s Henry V, and it was great to see him again. 

He has a great deal of experience with Shakespeare on stage, and it shows. He was effortlessly funny, especially his Sir Topas! Just brilliant!

The actor who first performed the role of Feste at The Globe would have been Robert Armin, who replaced Will Kemp as the acting company’s greatest comedian around 1599.

But for the royal performance before Queen Elizabeth herself, I think William Shakespeare would have performed the role, perhaps the one and only time in his career that he had the pleasure of clowning around in this role.

I think Mr. Butelli channeled a little of William Shakespeare on stage.

By the end, as Feste sings “And we’ll strive to please you every day”, I think the greatest playwright in Elizabethan London was pleading for mercy from Elizabeth herself. 

This play was performed not long after the Essex Rebellion, which implicated Shakespeare, and cast a shadow on his reputation. It would make sense that Shakespeare is trying to beg forgiveness with a light comedy such as Twelfth Night.

Mr. Butelli seems to understand that, and I think he struck precisely the right note by the end of the play. It allowed me to hear Shakespeare’s apology to the Queen.

Shakespeare wrote the character of Malvolio to make fun of Robert Cecil, who was at the time the most powerful man in England -- even more powerful than the Queen herself, who would die about a year later.

In the same way that Mr. Butelli allowed me to hear Shakespeare, Mr. Willis allowed me to hear Robert Cecil. 

When Mr. Willis spoke Malvolio's last line "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" he did not play it with any humor, bitterness or emotion. He speaks it as a very real man who is making a very real threat.

Robert Cecil would take his revenge after Elizabeth died, and personally place King James on the throne.


The direction was great -- the pacing of the play was perfect, and the almost madcap movement of the actors and scene transitions was great. I do hope that director Robert Richmond, who also directed Henry V, continues on at the Folger. I look forward to seeing his productions.

The play was set in an Illyria circa 1915, and evokes the pre-WWI era of Downton Abbey. I am not a huge fan of setting the plays in other eras, but this works wonderfully.

At the beginning the setting seems unnecessary. But as the play progresses, there is a vaudevillian quality to some scenes and characters that is remarkably fitting for this play.

The music was great -- with some Debussy and Erik Satie for good measure.

I thought the choice of Debussy’s Clair de Lune was a stroke of genius when Orsino says “That strain again! It had a dying fall.”

I think this was the very best “Feste’s Song” I have ever heard. Played on the ukulele, and sung in a wistful vaudeville style, it was quite touching.

There was quite a bit of singing throughout the play, and it gave me the impression of being in a music hall, rather than in a theatre. In fact, there were moments when the audience did sing aloud with the cast!

I know that my words here can't convey how much fun this show was.

You'll just have to go see it for yourself!

Cheers,


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