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“Twelfth Night” Review, Courier-Journal.com

June 28, 2013

By Elizabeth Kramer, Courier-Journal.com. Published June 21, 2013.

The waterfall is the first thing you notice. You see it even before the players step onstage for Kentucky Shakespeare’s production of “Twelfth Night.” It streams from below a huge home that surrounds it like an ancient version of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. In Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s stage design, the house’s brick facade with a continuously smoking chimney blends with the surrounding trees of Louisville’s Central Park.

When the actors do arrive, they come from behind the audience. The Duke Orsino (John Pasha), with a band of troubadours on assorted instruments, gives the famous first line — “If music be the food of love play on.” While that gets lost in the commotion, the drama mounts when through that waterfall stumbles a shipwrecked young woman named Viola (Madison Dunaway) and her rescuer. In this unfamiliar country, she sets out to make her way by dressing as a boy and finding employment as a servant to the Duke.

While this launch into one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, given a Celtic setting under the direction of Kentucky Shakespeare artistic producing director Brantley Dunaway, is a bit uneven, the story takes off when the comedy gets under way accompanied by music from the band interspersed in the action.

There is one mix of storylines concerning unrequited love. The Duke is in love with the wealthy countess Olivia (Rosie Ward), the lady who heads this massive house, but she ignores him, blaming her disinterest on the somewhat recent deaths of her father and brother. Then there is the conundrum Viola finds herself in, having the identity of a boy called Cesario but falling in love with the Duke while also trying to woo Olivia for him. It’s comical to a degree — mostly when Ward as Olivia throws herself at Viola, who is severely shaken but desperately tries to maintain her composure as she fends off the advance.

Yes, there is comedy there — but the real belly-laughing comes with the entrance of the rowdy crew that gallivants about the property drinking and carousing, headed by none other than Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, whose name gives some insight into his constitution. Finely played by Paul Kiernan, Toby is not shy about his own flatulence and seems to always have a drink in his hand.

Kiernan, as well as many others in the cast, had to endure a power outage onstage at twilight on opening night. It had them acting without lights and working hard to speak louder to overcome the lack of an amplification system. It wasn’t hard to notice some company staff scrambling outside the seating area to get the power back up. With power restored about 15 minutes later, Kiernan as Toby posed to his gang, “Shall we tell you what you missed?” That wink to the audience provoked laugher and applause but didn’t slow the flow of the production.

Toby pals around with Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Brad Fraizer), whom he has invited to woo his niece. His crowd also includes several servants — Maria (Amy Barrick), Fabian (Matt Lytle) and Feste (Peter Riopelle), who is the fool or clown once employed and favored by Olivia’s father. Riopelle’s Feste is mostly a singer and the riddle maker of the group. Under Dunaway’s direction, the rest of the actors — Fraizer, Barrick and Lytle — make up a comical motley bunch with some great timing and the ability to perform humor that evokes Monty Python.

Aside from the buffoonery amongst themselves, these crew members also have tricks up their sleeves for one of Olivia’s high-ranking servants — Malvolio. In this role, the lanky and red-headed Jonathan Visser uses his voice and his long limbs to embody his character’s pompous nature. It becomes the root of his downfall and comeuppance when Maria, whom Barrick embodies with beguiling aplomb, sets off a scheme involving a fake letter from Olivia to Malvolio declaring his lady’s love for him. Malvolio, who has a secret crush on her, is so delightfully giddy at the prospect, giving the audience some of this production’s sweetest and most hilarious moments.