Twelfth Night, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington D.C. 9/5/2010, Shakespeare Theater Company, Shakespeare "Free for All"
Many Shakespearean comedies can be turned into a farce, and the cast can get away with it. A few of his plays are even considered to be better when performed as farces. Two Gentlemen of Verona, Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost are some of these. As You Like It has sometimes been played as a farce. It isn't one of the standout, 'made to be' farces, but it's well performed as a farce as well as a serious comedy. But its ‘sister’ play, Twelfth Night, is somewhat more serious. There are people who are wronged, disheveled and mentally tortured to a level beyond comic playfulness. Malvolio and Sir Aguecheek are not playfully made fun of, like Audrey or Silvius. They are really taken advantage of to a point where the entire play becomes bittersweet. In fact, Twelfth Night is highly revered, almost because it has many more layers than the simple comedy it first appears to be. The real strength that this play has is that to really understand it, you need to see it many times.
Yellow Stocking Clad Malvoilo and Olivia
This play was directed in a less serious manner than many others. Rose petals rained from the ceiling when Orsino, Olivia and Viola fell in love. Soppy music and very odd panels with roses painted on them were also added to the mix. Most lines were delivered with skips, jumps or affectionate gestures. It was as if the whole thing had a bow tied on it. This worked extremely well for the first comic scenes with Toby, Aguecheek, Maria, Fabian and Feste. When Toby and Aguecheek would tell jokes or trip and fall, the comic side of the play was really brought out by the effects and sounds. But in scenes with Viola, Malvolio and Olivia, it took away from the deeper meanings. Even the simple messages the play gives like 'don't judge a book by its cover' and 'analize the situation before you act' were muddled to a point where they were unrecognizable.
Viola and Orsino made a picture-perfect couple, playing the characters to fit like puzzle pieces. Even when Viola was disguised as Cesario, she and Orsino seemed to bond. He often affectionatly put his hand on her shoulder or hugged her. Viola often screamed at the audience. instead of switching personalities in her solo monolauges where she admitted her love of Orsino, she did the entire part with the same attitude and traits. She seemed to have only one level of emotion and physicality, as opposed to the genius heartbroken turned lover that the bard created. Olivia was very dramatic. She changed her dress for almost every scene, and rolled all over. She shamlessly forgot her maiden restraint. This side of the character fit the production well.
Viola and Feste
What the production really benefitted from was the Aguecheek-Toby relationship. Aguecheek treated Toby like a brother in body language as well as vocally. Toby physically scorned him while vocally praising him. Fabian was physically on Toby’s side. Feste ended up playing them all with his mock-beggary. He had very many levels. He was a genius, knowing he wasn't a funny fool. His smart, double-headed humor was perfectly matched with his brilliant but sorrowful monologues. Maria was homely and endearing until she took part in the destruction of Malvolio. And he who was wronged the worst was also the most comical in the scene with his yellow stockings. Malvolio almost stepped out of character to be funny. Almost.
Feste and Fabian persuade Sir Aguecheek