REVIEW OF: 12TH NIGHT, playing at THE OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
One of the most popular plays being staged in Ashland this summer is the 1930s Hollywood version of 12th Night directed by Christopher Liam Moore being performed in the Angus Bowmer Theater. It was certainly the favorite play of most of the group I was with.
The twists and turns of this comedy are well known to Shakespeare fans so I won’t detail the plot here, but you can follow this link if you’d like help remembering: http://www.bardweb.net/plays/twelfthnight.html
Setting the play in 1930s Hollywood ‘Ilyria Studios’ worked very well and added greatly to the continuity and success of the production with singing, dancing, costuming and set design blending together seamlessly. Olivia was cast as a secluded and pampered movie star who came across as someone like Josephine Baker.
Stunning sequined hand-made gowns clung to her and in the final scene she was raised up on a dais as a princess of hollywood enthralling the audience.
Orsino was cast as a somewhat eccentric and humorously demanding, German film producer. Viola and Sebastian were played by the same actress who did an amazing job, although this double role proved to be a bit problematic. Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio were wonderfully cast in appropriate attire for the times as drunken leeches, and a serious butler type character respectively.
Maria, Olivia’s maid, did an excellent job connecting Olivia with the layabouts and the trickery they planned against Malvolio. When Feste came on the stage as a character somewhat like Harold Nichols, he somewhat stole the show.(http://www.biography.com/people/harold-nicholas-21355911) Although his character was a little inscrutable thanks to the bard’s lines, the persona of Feste (Rodney Gardiner) as the wise fool gave the play gravitas. https://www.osfashland.org/artist-biographies/acting-company/rodney-gardiner.aspx
For a short preview click on this link https://www.osfashland.org/multimedia.aspx
The design elements – setting, props, costumes and choreography of the dance scenes and the singing were fun and brilliantly done with the action taking place by a pool, so it seemed. Behind the pool a curved, broad stairway went up to Olivia’s apartments giving the stage depth, levels and the feeling of Olivia being away up there lost in her mourning when she wasn’t on stage. The fencing scene playfully fought all over the stage, including the stairs, was especially delightful.
The acting, singing, dancing and fighting were all well done with a packed house fully engaged in response. It was a near perfect production. The problem alluded to earlier was that Viola and Sebastian were one person. The young woman acting this out managed to make clear with her version of masculine and (disguised) feminine body language and a slight change of voice which one was which. (They were clothed the same.) The masculine came across, but the feminine was portrayed only by awkwardness and weakness. However, when they both needed to appear on the stage at the same time a screening device was used along with the help of another body so that they could appear to be conversing. It was rather too complicated and ineffective though. And at the very end there was only one person strolling arm in arm between Olivia and Orsino. Viola’s femininity was missed along with the Bard’s original ending. This is why I’m giving the play only 4.5 Stars. Nevertheless, it is well worth seeing and I would enjoy it again.