Last night my family went to opening night for Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I’ve seen a number of different productions of the play over the past 40 years, and this was neither the best nor the worst of them.
- Paul Vincent O’Connor was probably the best Sir Toby Belch I’ve seen. He was appropriately coarse and rowdy, but tender with Maria (a facet of the character often missed).
- Jerry Lloyd did an excellent job as Malvolio. Malvolio’s monologue on finding Maria’s forged letter is one of Shakespeare’s best comic monologues, and Mr.Lloyd played Malvolio’s overweening self-importance well throughout the play.
- William Elsman as Sir Andrew Aguecheek had the upper-class twit part perfected. His comedic timing was excellent.
- Jason Marr did a good job in the rather thankless role of Fabian. I hope we see him in a meatier role in future.
- The twins looked at least vaguely similar to each other (though not so close that they were hard to tell apart). Too many productions rely entirely on costuming to make twins of an actor and actress who look nothing like each other.
- Shannon Warrick as Maria seemed to take real delight in her jokes and made the Maria’s affection for Sir Toby seem real (rather than a rather crude play for money or social standing that is often done). She should have been made up to look a little older, though.
- Good voice projection. A few years ago there were some SSC productions with actors who couldn’t make themselves heard. Although I’ve gotten deafer in the intervening years, I had no problems at all hearing these performers even at their quietest.
- The costuming. There were some good touches (like Malvolio’s chain of office with his bathrobe and Sir Toby Belch’s foot brace), but for the most part the costuming seemed irrelevant and distracting—ideas thrown together without much attention to whether they worked well with each other. Olivia’s slit skirts were unflattering and made her look more like a strumpet than a countess. Feste’s drab costume seemed inappropriate for a fool (and Mark Christine’s rather flat performance of Feste didn’t help). Some costume choices just seemed bizarre and pointless, like the horsetails on an umbrella frame for Olivia.
- The music. Feste had a nice enough voice, but not one to write home about. The addition of a parody of the twelve nights of Christmas to the catch scene was gratuitous, adding nothing to the play, and the arrangements of the music were mostly lame. Of course, I’ve been spoiled because at one of the first productions I saw of Twelfth Night (over 30 years ago in Berkeley) Oak, Ash, and Thorn sang all the songs alluded to in the play before the play and during the intermission. (I don’t know if the current Oak, Ash, and Thorn group has the same singers, but they’re about the right ages.) There are a lot of references to popular songs of the day in the play. I would have also liked to see a little dancing: Sir Toby attempting a cinque pas for the line “I would not so much as make water but in a sink-a-pace” (for that matter, doing a few seconds of each dance mentioned in that speech). Again—I’m spoiled by that Berkeley production.
- The mixed concept. The director tried to mix a set based on Tim Burton’s art, costumes sort of from Cirque du Soleil, and a few steampunk props. Any of these ideas could have worked if followed through, but the half-hearted mixture of them was not successful. I think that a fully steampunk version would have worked best, but perhaps their costumers and prop makers were not up to the task—Orsino’s steampunk bow was amusing, but the single bicycle sprocket on Andrew Aguecheek’s carpetbag was just pathetic.
- The makeup. The clown makeup was distracting and added nothing to the performance—they would have been better off with ordinary stage makeup (except for Feste, of course). I thought that the Shakes to Go performance that I saw on June 8th (the final performance of their 27 performances this year) used the clown makeup more effectively. Perhaps the minimal set necessitated by the Shakes to Go traveling show lends itself more to the clown approach. Or maybe Patty Gallagher is just a better director than Marco Barricelli.
Overall, the production was a good, crowd-pleasing one, well worth seeing, even if not the finest work Shakespeare Santa Cruz has ever done.