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William Shakespeare created more than 1,700 words. We still use many of these today, including eyeball, luggage, excitement and advertisement.

“Twelfth Night” Review, Arts-Louisville.com

June 28, 2013

By Keith Waits, Arts-Louisville.com. Published June 23, 2013.

By William Shakespeare  
Presented by Kentucky Shakespeare  
Directed by Brantley Dunaway  
Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright ©2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

It begins with the set. Brilliantly conceived by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, it is a splendid multi-level design that blends elements representing the man-made and nature in harmonious balance and features a waterfall center stage. It is a stage built for an expansive staging; and, for the most part, that is exactly what is delivered in this Twelfth Night.

The story of Viola and Sebastian, separated after a shipwreck in the country of Illyria, and Viola’s gender-crossing masquerade as Cesario has long been a favorite among Shakespeare’s comedies. The situation of a woman pretending to be a man and mistaken placement of romantic affections are common enough in his plays, yet their positioning within this plot provides an especially good opportunity to investigate the nature of attraction and how it may subvert our planned desires for something altogether unexpected. As the resolution plays out in the final scenes, true love may be present, but so is the breakdown of vanity and proof that the heart can be fickle and easily tricked in cruel fashion.

Brantley Dunaway’s production employs a Celtic theme for its setting, which makes for handsome design (although Orsino’s too-much-like-a-tunic costume was annoying and stood apart from the rest of the, mostly, striking costumes) and invites a hodge-podge of accents. But the playing was sound and sometimes more so. Madison Dunaway is a winsome and intelligent Viola, and Rosie Ward as Olivia, John Pasha as Orsino and Kyle Curry as Sebastian are all worthy and effective. Yet the lovers’ stories never seem quite as inspired as the work of the characters central to the comedy.

Brad Fraizer is a wonderful Sir Andrew Aguecheek – a true clown in the richest sense, who can riddle each line with delicate comic nuance and bring the slapstick in great measure. He is ably supported by Paul Kiernan as Sir Toby Belch, whose work is very nearly the match of his partner in crime. Matt Lytle’s Fabian and Amy Barrick’s Maria contribute meaningful complement to two more showcased roles.

The character of Feste, the jester to Orsinos’s court, sings in the story; and the songs are perhaps given a larger role than in most productions, with five skilled musicians and a good vocalist to deliver them in Peter Riopelle. Familiar to local audiences from productions of 1776 and Guys and Dolls at Music Theatre Louisville, the musical theatre veteran is a wise choice not only for his singing abilities but because he is a fine comic actor as well. The songs interject a wistful note into the farce, and Mr. Riopelle’s delivery is plaintive yet memorable.

Twelfth Night also contains one of the most sought-after roles in Shakespeare: Olivia’s servant, Malvolio. Jonathan Visser makes a vivid impression, tall, lanky and topped with a shock of ginger hair. He underplays at first, allowing his physical presence to fully register as he builds a foundation for the character. As the plot thickens and he is greatly abused by a scheme to embarrass him, Mr. Visser fleshes out Malvolio’s suffering as certainly as he manages the most confident accent of the evening – a smart and potent mixture of comedy and pathos.

Malvolio’s scene in which he reads the letter wherein he comes to believe Olivia is professing love for him takes the fullest advantage of Mr. Kmiec’s wonderful stage, as Aguecheek, Toby and Fabian maneuver through every conceivable nook, cranny, platform, staircase and balcony perch so that the hapless Malvolio seems to be unconsciously chasing them up to the last refuge before exiting the stage.

The language is clear; the pace and tone give the story room to breathe; and as the sun sets and the lighting brings the production and the play into focus, this must be counted as a success for Kentucky Shakespeare.