I hate to say this– but Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s latest FREE Shakespeare on the Common TWELFTH NIGHT-– was a drag. And I’m not referring to the Bard’s familiar penchant for having girls dress like boys– which Viola does here, becoming a dead ringer for her twin brother Sebastian, which of course leads to all manner of hi and lo-jinks, romantic miscues, and impromptu imbroglios. Shakespeare’s plotting remains on target, but this production–tonally and visually, was way off course.
The opening scene on board a ship– “mid wreck”– IS cleverly choreographed, spilling its cast of characters on the shores of Illyria and splitting up the aforementioned twins. But the psychedelic set design by the usually spot-on Cristina Tedesco and borrowed from a wall mural in Miami, looks like it was left-over from the 60’s TV comedy show “Laugh-in.”
Marianna Bassham is truly funny and nimble disguised as Cesario, a man-servant to Duke Orsino (a dull Robert Najarian) with whom she promptly falls in love, even as Orsino hopes the food of love will squelch his unrequited hunger for Olivia; she of course immediately falls in love with Viola/Cesario. But given what Bassham is wearing I have no idea what Olivia sees in him/her. Cesario and twin Sebastian (who turns up later, alive) played by Nile Hawver, look like a couple of lost clowns in mouse-grey pantaloons, tight-sleeved tie-dyed tees, and floppy knit caps. Costumes (by Nancy Leary) less flattering to the human form have yet to be conceived.
Fred Sullivan, Jr. did his hilarious cross-gartered best as the ill-used Malvolio; Remo Airaldi and Juan C. Rodriguez, mannered and screaming, as Feste and Fabian wore me out; Conner Christiansen while funny could have plucked more music and irony from his ultra-effeminate, one note Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Robert Pemberton as Sir Toby Belch, Sheree Galpert as Maria, and Jerry Goodwin as the Captain/Priest were all fine. The handsome, deep-voiced, and authoritative Woody Gaul in a small part as Antonio, should have the lead in whatever Comm Shakes does next.
That leaves Kerry O’Malley as Olivia who is smashing, smoothly transitioning from austere sadness over her recently deceased brother to giddy elation at the sight of her new crush. Hers and Bassham’s scenes together are the most satisfying of the evening. And O’Malley’s wardrobe? Lovely and seemingly plucked from a more beautiful, romantic, and nuanced production altogether– one I would have preferred to see. TWELFTH NIGHT : Through August 10 on the Common. Hey–it’s FREE.