The inaugural show of for Duende Productions, currently at the pleasant Alchemical Studios in Greenwich Village, is a warm-hearted chamber version of Shakespeare’s tipsy tale of mistaken identity and misdirected love, Twelfth Night directed by Amy Hayes who also plays the regally mournful Olivia. Hers is a down-to-earth Olivia whose emotions are accessible to the audience.
By stripping down the show and performing it in a white box theater space with minimal scenery and costumes, the eight actors, doubling up on parts, have fun interpreting Shakespeare’s luscious comedy of unrequited love and mistaken identity for each other, often bringing the viewers into the action (with mixed results). This is probably the friendliest Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen since the musical Your Own Thing in the sixties.
For the six people reading this who do not know the plot of Twelfth Night:
Twin siblings, Viola (a down-to-earth, believable Kaileela Hobby) and Sebastian (Seth Rue in one of his roles) are shipwrecked on Illyria, separated and desperate to find each other. Viola, impersonating a young man named Cesario is taken in by Count Orsino. Orsino (Richard Busser, who finds Orsino’s emotional center) pines after the gentlewoman Olivia and sends Cesario to do his wooing which backfires when Olivia falls for Cesario. Meanwhile, poor Orsino can’t understand why he is developing a fondness for this young “man”!
Sebastian is saved by Antonio (a particularly robust Alexandra Bonesho who also finesses Maria, Olivia’s loyal attendant). Antonio has to tread lightly on Illyria having fallen into Orsino’s bad graces. True to all mistaken identity tales since forever, Sebastian and Cesario are taken for each other, which is particularly odd in this production since the actor playing Sebastian is bald! Olivia marries Sebastian thinking he is Cesario and Cesario, that is Viola, marries Orsino who is relieved that Cesario turns out to be a female.
Olivia also has also caught the heart of Malvolio (Jim Ireland, who also uses his memorable voice to impersonate the Captain who saves Viola after the shipwreck), her steward, a silly, pompous, self-deluded fellow who gets his comeuppance in a subplot involving Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (an animated Seth Rue who also manages to give Sebastian more depth than Shakespeare has given him), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a gung-ho Joel Oramas) and Maria.
Feste the Clown is yet another character in Olivia’s household, an in-house mood raiser. As played by the charming Olivia Vessel, Feste becomes the unifying element of this production. Vessel’s original music, some to Shakespeare’s lyrics, delightfully enhanced Shakespeare’s machinations with festive song and dance.
Ms. Hayes keeps the play flowing, helped by the spare scenery Andrew Hayes and Duane Skoog have designed: several white wooden cubes that act variously as storage containers for costume changes, seats, the boat on which Viola and Sebastian arrive and other locations. Ilana Breitman’s costumes favor white and comfortable clothes. A change of hat or kerchief signals a change of character with wit and speed.
Les Dickert’s lighting plays with a number of exposed hanging bulbs that produce subtle shadows amongst the other lighting, making the most of the white space.
Combining a cast that is having a good time telling the story of Twelfth Night, an imaginative set, and wonderful music, this is a production worth seeing.
Twelfth Night (through April 21, 2019)
Alchemical Studios, 104 West 14th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.duendeproductions.org
Running time: 105 minutes without an intermission