Attending a Shakespeare play can be the most blissful of experiences when the actors embody the characters and their intents with such conviction and understanding that the audience forgets they’re listening to blank verse and other heighten language styles. While the cadence of poetic lines can be musically pleasant to hear, if the meaning of the words is not in the forefront for the actor, then the story is lost on the listener. A few of the Frog & Peach actors in this production hit their mark consistently in this regard; some, not so consistently, and still others not very often at all. However, the entire cast has so much fun with their roles that the audience kindly overlooks the more superficial performances and warms up to all by the play’s end.
This tale of mistaken identity involves fraternal twins Viola (Alyssa Diamond) and Sebastian (Kyle Primack), separated by a shipwreck in which each thinks the other has perished. Washed up on the shore of Illyria, Viola assumes the male identity of one ‘Cesario’ in order to enter into the service of the Duke of Orsino (Jonathan Reed Wexler). The Duke is in love with the bereaved Countess Olivia (Karoline Patrick) who has just lost her father, but when he sends Cesario to make his case with the Countess, she falls in love with Viola, thinking her the youth Cesario. Viola herself becomes smitten with the Duke. This love triangle comes together with the dizzying speed worthy of a frothy Elizabethan comedy.
In the Countess’ retinue are lady attendant Maria (Amy Frances Quint), the fool Feste (Steve Mazzoccone) and stuffy steward Malvolio (Richard James Porter). Other comic extras included but not limited to Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Kevin Hauver), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jamar Brathwaite) and Fabian (Steven Ungar), a servant.
When Sebastian makes his way into Illyria with friend and (another) sea captain Antonio (John L. Payne), he and Viola are mistaken for each other by several turns of events before they finally see one another. Viola’s identity is revealed and romantic pairings are adjusted just as quickly as they were originally made.
As directed by Benson, special mention goes to Primack, Quint, Payne, and Wexler for their strong and playful commitment to their characters, followed by the efforts of Mazzoccone, Porter and Hauver. All the actors can be credited with bringing moments of levity and ingenuity to their parts. Favorite line in the whole play–an aside from Fabian, delivered expertly by Ungar–“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” Ship sailed!
A simple, uneventful and static set by Asa Benally was appropriately overshadowed by his own delightful, anachronistic costumes. Choreography by Geneva Jenkins and original music by Ted Zurkowski enjoyably highlighted the Shakespeare’s song and dance written into the play, with added value from Mazzoccone’s vocals.
Twelfth Night (through March 17, 2019)
The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture’s Black Box Theater, 18 Bleecker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets visit sheencenter.org/shows/twelfthnight
Running time: two hours including one intermission