Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Say What You Will, I'd See It Again Any Night - Twelfth Night - Play Review

Twelfth Night - Delacorte Theatre - Central Park, New York, NY - **** (out of 5)
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Runs until July 12th 2009
Note: Review based on 2 preview performances. One under drizzle that was halted temporarily for rain.

Now I'm not an expert on Shakespeare, particularly the light comedies (my high school liked the dark tragedies because far be it for an all-boys school do anything romantic and light) but while it had been a while since I had last seen Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, it's probably the Shakespearean play I've seen the most versions of. And yet even then, I was slightly confused again at the start of the play as I had to get my mind back into Shakespeare speak mode, and I had forgotten most of the plot and reverted back to the plot of Amanda Bynes' highly underappreciated gem She's The Man for some help (I know. Sad but true).

Once I got my bearings straight (a previous production I had seen seemed to better explain/show the storm that split up Viola and Sebastian), this new free production from the Public Theatre in the park becomes an utterly delightful evening. The production is nicely straight forward, without any modern changes or re-imaginings, and played on a beautifully fanciful set of green rolling hills, which sets a clear calmness over the show.

Led by movie star Anne Hathaway (above with Esparza) in her major stage debut (though she's done Paper Mill Playhouse before) as Viola/Cesario, the incredible ensemble cast, filled with Tony winners and nominees, shows its pedigree with terrific performances that truly make this production soar.

4 time Tony winner Audra McDonald (above with Hathaway, Private Practice) continues to show why she's won so many Tony's at her young age with a beautifully nuanced and joyous performance as the countess Olivia. McDonald manages to make every line sing (and sing a few lines too, which in itself is breathtaking) and fully convey every thought and emotion Olivia is enduring. She could read the phonebook and make it sound Shakespearean so what she does here is nothing less then splendid and moving (and a further case that she's wasting her time on Private Practice).

4 time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza (above with Hathaway, Company, Pushing Daisies) manages to make a commanding yet sympathetic Orsino (possibly the least fleshed out main characters, thus all the more impressive for the actor).

Hamish Linklater (above right, already hilarious as Matthew on The New Adventures of Old Christine) turns in an unforgettable Sir Andrew Aguecheek as he flips and flops across the stage in a deliriously dimwitted role. Linklater milks every line, every breathe and sigh, and every stance and step (even his walk is funny) for a laugh without ever losing the character or over-taking the stage. He's a scene stealer without stealing it from his fellow cast members. Sly and subtle and a genuinely delightful performance.

Stark Sands, (above with McDonald, and a Tony nominee for Journey's End) may be young and pretty, but he's got the acting chops behind the gorgeous face, and though his part as Viola's twin brother Sebastian is small, he makes his presence felt in an already crowded stage of Broadway royalty. He exudes leading man easiness while sounding fresh and eloquent. His scenes with McDonald, sometimes as ridiculous as they may be (mistaken identity and the fastest acceptance of love), still manages to be believable and romantic.

Michael Cumpsty (above right) is perfect as Malvolio, Olivia's servant who becomes victim of an elaborate joke.

Tony nominee David Pittu (above right, Is He Dead?, LoveMusik) as the fool and Tony winner Julie White (Transformers, The Little Dog Laughed) as Maria are terrifically funny and emphasize every joke they can muster, though sometimes at the expense of the overall flow of the play. I also found that I usually had to extrapolate the plot during their speeches though I don't know if that's because of how they were written, or Pittu and White's interpretations (unlike McDonald, Sands or Esparza where I found I understood exactly what was going on when they spoke).

I also found Jay O. Sanders (above right) terrifically funny as Sir Toby Belch, though again, maybe because he played the drunkard in the secondary story, I never seemed to understand how he really fit in, which may have more to do with the character itself than Sanders' performance. (Yes, I'm criticizing Shakespeare. GASP. How DARE I!).

There's also a great performance by Charles Borland as Antonio, and some lovely music accompaniment led by Jon Patrick Walker (above centre).

Oh, and Anne Hathaway? Dare I say she performed wonderfully? Yes, the Diaries Princess herself makes an assured Shakespearean debut with charm and stage presence to spare. She nails the emotions, the eloquence and the comedic punchlines without turning in a STAR performnace, and truly works with the ensemble. Her scenes with Audra McDonald, Esparza and Linklater are especially precious and her final reunion with Stark Sands' long-lost twin brother Sebastian is deeply satisfying.

And make sure you stay until the very end of the 3 hour play for the final bows, all with song and dance (with the cast made up of some musically gifted folks (Pittu, McDonald, Esparza, Hathaway etc)). It's absolutely heavenly and a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful night.

You can get the free tickets by several ways:

1. At the park for the general distrubution every day (except Mondays) at 1pm at the Delacorte Theatre. For DAY OF SHOW ONLY. (Read the rules carefully. It's TIGHT and don't even THINK about linejumping. The New Yorkers will tear you apart).
2. Making a donation and becoming A Public Theatre supporter. (Min. $180 and you will receive one ticket)
3. Trying the Virtual Lottery. Sign up between midnight and 1pm and then sign in again between 1-6pm to see if you won. Tickets must be picked up by 7:30pm.
4. Try your luck with the standby line. Returns, house seats and tickets not picked up by Virtual Lottery winners will be handed out to the standby line. ONE per PERSON only. They are given out whenever they are returned but basically they usually don't start until at least 7:30pm and can go up to a few breaks into the first act. I would say start lining up here between 4-6pm. (Though last year I went at 6:30pm once and still managed to get in, though this year, I got there are 4pm and they stopped not too far after us).

Vance at


Esther said...

Thanks for the review. It sounds great! So nice to hear that Anne Hathaway was terrific.

Someday I have to get myself to Shakespeare in the Park. (Or any show in the park, really.) It sounds like so much fun.

Unknown said...

You lucky duck! Sounds like an amazing production.

All your criticisms are indeed of the original Shakespeare play -- the weirdness of the second storyline, the one-dimensional secondary characters and "funny characters". How much singing took place? Apparently, the original play has quite a bit in it, but few productions do more than a song or two.

Vance said...

Oh, I forgot to mention the singing. there were a lot of songs with a full band at the side that seemed looped into the story at times. but most of the songs were sung by David Pittu, who has a lovely voice, but Raul and Audra have lovelier voices. And they didn't sing as much as I would have hoped. Anne sang too and it was quite pretty as well. But really, you have Raul and Audra there, and I think what they DID sing, they stuck in because, well, its Raul and Audra!

Unknown said...

Lovely review! I really enjoyed the production overall as well (which you probably determined already) haha.
I will agree it did take me a couple of viewings to fully wrap my head around everything. And yeah, the first time I referred back to She's the Man.
Headed to the festivities tonight! Can't wait to see what they've changed and whatnot!