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Monday, October 21, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Twelfth Night on Broadway



I just saw the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III at the Belasco Theater in New York City over the weekend -- starring Mark Rylance, and directed by Tim Carroll.
They were truly spectacular!
If you are anywhere near New York City, you MUST see these plays!
They are playing only for 16 weeks -- so you must hurry.

For a schedule of performances and more information, please visit www.ShakespeareBroadway.com.
At every performance there will be 250 seats priced at $25.
This is the first time that Shakespeare’s Globe productions have ever been brought to Broadway, and with any luck it won’t be the last time.
The plays are performed in repertory, on alternating nights, and on some Wednesdays and Sundays the plays are performed back to back.
I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to tell you a little about my experience seeing Twelfth Night.
(Please come back tomorrow when I will write about Richard III.)
As I entered the theatre, the actors were on stage and were putting on their costumes and make-up. 
I enjoyed this very much. It gave us a chance to see what it might have been like for Shakespeare himself and his fellow Elizabethan actors in the “tiring room” where they were attired before every performance.

I was seated right in the front and nearly underneath Mark Rylance himself, as he was dressed as Olivia.
I have read so much about him -- that he is the greatest stage actor today, and that he is one of the greatest interpreters of Shakespeare -- that it was a little unnerving to see him up close.
As you may know, the play is performed in “original practices” -- the costumes are very authentic recreations of what Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethan actors would have worn, the stage is lighted almost entirely by candles, the musical troupe plays music on instruments authentic to the period, and there were even seats for about 70 members of the audience on the stage itself that resembled the gallery seating of the Globe in London. 
Also, it seemed as if everyone seated in the entire theatre was visible to the actors, so they could see us as well as we could see them -- which must resemble their experience at the Globe.
As excited as I was to see Mark Rylance, I was thrilled to see Stephen Fry in person. I have been a fan of his for a very long time, and it was very exciting to see him on stage. 

It is the first time he has performed on Broadway, and that fact alone should make you see him as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He is not in Richard III, but don’t let his absence in that play stop you from seeing it!
There is so much I can say about this performance, and I find myself struggling to say how good it was.
While I have seen it before, and recently too at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., there was so much in this production that surprised me and made me laugh. 
The biggest surprise was Mark Rylance’s Olivia. I have been drawn to the other characters so often -- especially Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch and Feste -- that I honestly did not understand how very funny Olivia could be. 
Mark Rylance in front of the onstage galleries audience

Mr. Rylance has crafted such an ingenious character. At the beginning of the play his  Olivia is so tightly wound, and as the play goes he unspools her with such comedic perfection. I was crying with laughter. I had to wipe my eyes quickly too, since I was afraid that I was going to miss anything.
I can’t put it into words, but he makes Olivia’s emotional journey so overwhelmingly powerful that it almost derails the rest of the play -- in a good way. You almost forget the rest of the play.
Like the greatest of actors, he makes very good choices in how he performs. He has obviously made some very meticulous choices in performing Olivia, and they are dead on. The way she speaks with such a brittle and articulate voice, the way she moves across the stage so primly and rigidly, the indecent way she sucks her finger to remove her ring to give to Viola as Cesario -- Mr. Rylance has thoroughly and perfectly put her character together.
I have seen some great performances in my life, and I will not soon forget the pleasure it was to watch a master at his craft perform to such perfection.
The other great surprise was Paul Chahidi as Maria. I have never focused on this character, but he takes this supporting character and takes it to a whole different level.
Paul Chahidi as Maria with Colin Hurley as Sir Toby Belch
He does so much with the role that is unexpected and just plain funny. 
It was sometimes hard to watch, because there were so many moments where the play was a laugh riot, and I was actually becoming exhausted from laughing so much. I didn’t want it to stop, but it was definitely wearing me out!
Mr. Chahidi obviously loves this character and he brought her to life in a way that I didn’t expect. He takes some rather simple moments and lines of dialogue, and just nails them. 
Perhaps my favorite part of his performance is when he looks out to the audience and trembles with excitement (in conspiring against Malvolio) and smiles with this absolute ecstatic glee that made the whole audience roar with laughter.

He stole just about every moment he was on stage, and considering how great the other actors on stage were, that is a very hard thing to do.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Colin Hurley as Sir Toby Belch, Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste, Angus Wright as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Samuel Barnett as Viola, and the others are just brilliant.
Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste
I apologize if I don’t go into the details of their performances, but take my word for it that they are as perfect as you would expect from Shakespeare’s Globe. They are obviously experts in their craft, they clearly enjoy working together, and they seem to make this play effortlessly funny.
Stephen Fry as Malvolio?
What can I say?
How can I criticize him? 
I can only say that to see him on stage, and having so much fun on stage, will live with me forever.

Do yourself a favor and go see this Twelfth Night.
You will never forget it.

Cheers,

P.S. Please check back tomorrow for my thoughts on Richard III -- which was less perfect than I expected and less funny than it could have been.
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