KPBS AIRDATE: JULY 20, 2001
If music be the food of love, prepare yourself for a feast– visual, auditory and gustatory. Jack O’Brien’s new production of “Twelfth Night” is drop-dead gorgeous, musically enchanting and sumptuously delicious. Fresh from his two Tony nominations, O’Brien has gathered together a band of favorites and some fresh new faces, to present Shakespeare’s bittersweet romantic comedy, wherein the joy springs forth from sadness.
The Duke Orsino revels in self-indulgent, lovelorn melancholy; his beloved, Olivia, is wallowing in grief for her dead father and brother. The cross-dressing go-between, Viola, mourns her shipwrecked twin, Sebastian. Of course, to borrow from another Shakespearean title, ‘all’s well that ends well;’ the losses and mistaken identities are sorted out, and all the lovers come together in a head-spinning series of blissful unions marred only by the vengeful humiliation of the Puritanical Malvolio. His pompous, censorious bluster reflects the growing power of the Puritans who, during Shakespeare’s time, threatened to take all the joy out of life (and that included closing the theaters).
The story is suffused with music, and Mark Bennett’s original score makes the most of the lyrical opportunities, in tuneful, modern melodies that make the well-spoken poetry sing. The humor’s the thing here, and though the acting starts out a bit over-the-top, so does the sentiment. Everyone settles in by the second act, which fairly flies by.
As the clown Feste, the thoroughly likable Harry Groener, all in pompomed white satin, serves as our guide, opening and closing the play with his comic sadness and fool’s wisdom. Paxton Whitehead is delectably arrogant as the malcontent Malvolio, and Dakin Matthews is having big fat fun as yet another of Shakespeare’s gargantuan over-indulgers, Sir Toby Belch. The veterans fare best, but among the younger set, Margaret Welsh is an intelligently imperious and endearingly capricious Olivia, and Sue Cremin is charming as Viola and Cesario. James Waterston makes Sir Andrew Aguecheek aptly idiotic. The youthful men are great-looking guys, beautifully attired. Robert Morgan’s costumes are splendid. But the show is virtually stolen by James Joy’s set.
What an idyllic spot this Illyria is! Who wouldn’t want to cavort, linger, lounge and fall in love in this shimmering, sensuous realm? The marble flooring, urns and columns, the lush gardens and languorously draped wisteria, the romantic footbridge, the boats gently gliding over the river, characters wading in the stream, and all of it nestled into beautiful Balboa Park. It’s a Jean-Antoine Watteau painting sprung to verdant life. Let the setting wash over you, and let the music Play On!
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.