Wednesday, May 23, 2018


As everyone who reads this blog knows (all one of me), it has been moribund for some time. The horror of post-asteroid political America is both too constant and too obvious to prompt analysis here. However, I am nothing if not critical, including lit critical. And a forum entitled Falstaff is entitled to post about Shakespeare.

Last night we saw The Acting Company production of Twelfth Night that closes this year's season of Theatre for a New Audience. It isn't an interesting take on the play. To the degree that there's any take at all, in fact, it makes no sense. We're led to understand that it was Feste who rescued Viola from the sea, and who therefore knows that she is disguising herself as a he (Cesario). This makes nonsense of much that happens later (most notably the exchange of wit between them in IIIi). It's all in service of what is intended as a coup de theatre at the end, where the once-again shipwrecked-looking Viola wafts back onstage during Feste's closing song, and disappears back into the sea -- suggesting, Sixth Sense-like, that she was never rescued and the entire play was Feste's dream.


The performances are mostly competent but uninteresting. Best is Susanna Stahlmann as Viola. The biggest disappointment is Stephen Pelinksi's Malvolio, whose self-love is less sick than stiff. He has some decent schtick during the famous letter scene, but he gets to none of Malvolio's explosive joy at his (false) discovery that Olivia loves him. Malvolio is usually given to a troupe's lead actor -- the one who plays Lear or Prospero -- because of this scene. But without his ecstatic transformation into a mad lover, his emotional meaning in the play disappears.

Thing is, though, it's still okay. This play is such a perfect construction that no performance, however inadequate, can ruin it. It's like a Mozart symphony. You can spoil As You Like It and Much Ado -- and, of course, an inadequate Hamlet or Othello or Lear can bring down a production. But Twelfth Night is robust against all theatrical failure (as, also, is Midsummer Night's Dream). It can soar -- as it did in the Globe Theatre's all-male production a few years ago with Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio. And any given production can tap into its energies in brilliant, delightful, moving ways (as Oliver Platt's Toby Belch did a couple of decades ago in Central Park... and as Trevor Nunn's 1996 film version did, especially Ben Kingsley's Feste). But no matter how little inspiration is brought to bear, nobody ever leaves the theater without hearing its music. It plays on.