Monday, November 19, 2018

What You Will, Shakespeare: Moments of Delectable Farce Drive 'Twelfth Night' at Writers -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Twelfth Night or What You Will
by William Shakespeare
directed by Michael Halberstam
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Thru December 16

I love Shakespeare.

Historically, culturally, influentially.

I just--due perhaps to his dense language or maybe just my own denseness--have had a hard time embracing and loving his plays at face value.

Being a comedy, Twelfth Night or What You Will, would seemingly be easier for me to understand and appreciate, especially within the beautiful confines of Glencoe's Writers Theatre.

And with many terrific performers in the cast under the direction of Writers' artistic director Michael Halberstam, I was sufficiently entertained, particularly when things got delectably farcical.

I suspect that if, unlike me, you are a devout Shakespearean--especially one familiar with the Twelfth Night text--you may considerably enjoy this production. 

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
My companion for the opening night production was far better-versed and indeed liked the show quite a bit more than I did.

He was able to savor the considerable humor but concurred that much of the pathos of the central
storyline seemed to largely be sacrificed.

And regarding the main love triangle narrative, he was hard-pressed to explain exactly why Viola (a fine Jennifer Latimore) assumes the masculine guise of Cesario after being shipwrecked and brought ashore, while assuming her brother Sebastian lost at sea.

Behind her disguise, Viola longs for the the Duke Orsino (Matthew C. Yee, recently in Vietgone at Writers) but is herself--as Cesario--passionately desired by Olivia (Andrea San Miguel).

Though this plotline sounds farcical, like something out of a '70s sitcom--Three's Company comes to mind--it's actually more substantive than secondary narrative elements, which here come to the fore.

This essentially involves a band of merry pranksters led by Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby (the always terrific Kevin Gudahl) and including foppish squire Sir Andrew (Scott Parkinson) and two female servants of Olivia's, Maria (Karen Janes Woditsch) and Fabian (Mary Williamson).

Along with getting considerable drink on--most abundantly in the case of Andrew--they seem to exist to torture Malvolio (local stalwart Sean Fortunato), the all-too-prim steward of Olivia.

Also toiling about is Feste, a fool, played by William Brown, who bursts into occasional song.

Much of the mayhem, particularly in Act I, is so over the top in terms of slapstick humor, that it's hard not to simply appreciate the talents of Gudahl, Parkinson and director Halberstam in taking the Bard on such a wild ride.

But as much of the bawdiness seemed to be in the name of bullying Malvolio--and if he deserves it, I didn't catch why--so the revelry could only amuse me so far.

In Act II, the love triangle comes back a bit more to the fore, with nice work being done by Latimore, San Miguel and Yee.

But I can't say it mattered that much to me.

I also can't judge this staging against other versions of Twelfth Night as I haven't seen any, but Writers' production values are typically strong and that my pal was well-more smitten than I merits being noted.

Perhaps one day I may more fully embrace Shakespeare and never consider exposure to his works a bad thing.

But at least for now, I'm not looking forward to a Thirteenth Night.

Or what you will. 

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