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Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare, Bama Theatre Company (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on August 23, 2012

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BAMA Theatre Company have been regular and welcome participants at the NY Fringe festival the past few years, presenting a memorable production of Hamlet last year. In 2012 they return with Twelfth Night, and a clutch from that same illustrious cast. Emerging from residencies at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the outfit are consummately versed in the articulation of Shakespeare, and characteristically favor a minimum of props and scenic effects – just one large on stage travel trunk and its contents. In addition, a compact cast list requires actors to play more than one role and the theatrical effect is typically honed, imaginative, and impressive. There’s a confident familiarity in their presentations, one that permits license for interpretation, the exploration of a fresh perspective. Expectations in this regard are not disappointed in the opening sequence of their Twelfth Night. The cast of eight actors take the stage and commence by serenading the audience with the play’s concluding song – “- hey, ho, the wind and the rain.” It’s a rousing, folky rendition – all the more stirring for its simplicity, and it chimes elegantly with the play’s following opening lines – “If music be the food of love, play on”.

Love, as ever, is at the heart of Shakespeare’s best comedies, and there’s no shortage here of the wooing of it. But it’s the human machinations of the winning of it that promote folly, misunderstanding, and mirth. In short order we are presented here with a web of schemes and cross-plots as this party deploys that party to win the other party for the first party. Indirection and deception, the quickest way (or so they believe) for Shakespearean characters to get what they desire, are epidemic. It’s the graceful interweaving of any several plots, and their delicate untangling that old Will is such an expert at. That and the astounding language he deploys in getting there. One of his most accessible comedies, Twelfth Night does not disappoint. But there are some questions I would ask about BAMA’s version in this production.

I have no argument with broad playing on the part of some of the actors – indeed there’s something perhaps more genuinely period in the approach. It’s no surprise to find a cut-up comic turn in the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (an hilarious Matt Renskers), but its peculiar to find the same sort of over-bite being employed – and clearly enjoyed – in the roles of Olivia (Alison Frederick), and the shrewd-tongued clown, Feste (Nick Lawson). Both are delightful, but tilt the performance unduly in their direction. Conversely, there’s a positive calm sobriety about Greg Foro’s Malvolio, a character traditionally, next to Sir Andrew, played as the butt of all humor. Director Casey McClellan may be trying for something new here, but the effect works to shuffle the focus of attention about, somewhat to the detriment of the play’s balance. Lauren Anne Martin’s more low key Viola, despite all her stage time, gets bumped from prominence, a situation not aided by a down-playing of any sexual spark between her and Duke Orsino while she’s disguised as the youth Cesario. Nathan T. Lange as Orsino registers hardly any “special” interest in her as his messenger boy. Apart from the obvious Olivia/Cesario infatuation, the misguided same-sex attractions – such a rich seam of Shakespearean comedic tension – get only subliminal play here, and in a few peculiar places. There’s some juicy innuendo around the foppish Sir Andrew – “I’m a great eater of beef” – and leers he throws in the direction of Feste, even some roving curiosity in Sir Toby Belch’s drunken horseplay  (a splendid William Brock) with Sir Andrew, but there’s an alarming burst of passion from the pirate, Antonio (Lange again) when he declares his devotion to Viola’s twin brother, the rescued Sebastian (Foro). Think Peter Jackson’s Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins. It’s perplexing, as if the roles all got shunted about at the last minute but the actors are still firing up around the cast member they had previously been assigned to fixate upon. There’s too much heat in places it’s not needed, and not enough in situations that require it. McClellan could tweak his cast; Frederick’s and Lawson’s scene-stealing could be reined in, and Martin’s and Foro’s tighter turns loosened up.

Regardless, the piece entertains royally. Technically the production flows, and once again the performance convinces that less is more. The costuming, by Sarah Walker Thornton, is clever and subtle, and she rounds out the cast as a deft Maria. On this side of the Atlantic, BAMA company are in a league of their own doing Shakespeare. Standing ovations greeted the obviously talented cast at curtain. Perhaps I’m just quibbling, but even the best laid plans of the redoubtable bard can be rumpled with some fiddling. Oh cursed spite that ever I should be the one to think it not quite right.


Twelfth Night
BAMA Theatre Company
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Casey McClellan
Getting into disguise is easy, getting out of it…that’s another story. BAMA Theatre Company is BACK at FringeNYC for the 4th straight year to bring you Shakespeare’s most acclaimed musical comedy! 8 actors. 14 roles. 1 trunk. If music be the food of love, rock on!
2h 15m   Local   Manhattan, New York
Comedy   FringeHIGH
Staycation: Literary Lane   Ride the Rollercoaster of Love
VENUE #12: Cherry Lane Theatre
Fri 10 @ 5*  Sun 12 @ 1  Fri 17 @ 8:30  Sat 18 @ 2:30  Thu 23 @ 4

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