Monday, July 13, 2015

Twelfth Night—Portland Shakespeare Project—SW Portland

Love’s Sad Song

This production by William Shakespeare is directed by the renowned, Lisa Harrow.  It is playing at the Artist Rep.’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through August 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandshakes.org or call 503-806-1588.

If music truly is “the food of love” then it is indeed a humorous, troubled, complex and rather sad song, for it takes a group of wise fools to foresee love’s true course and put things right again.  If left up to the lords and ladies, who are constantly muddling things up with disguises, masks, and even gender changes, Love might be forever hidden.  In all his comedies it is generally the “Common-man” individuals that envision the world in romantic and/or earthy terms and the Elite that seem to be so self-absorb that they don’t trust or are unaware of Love’s path.

In this incarnation of Cupid’s swift arrows, there has been a shipwreck near an island and some lives are lost.  Viola (Kayla Lian), having been washed up on shore, fears that her twin brother, Sebastian (Luke Armstrong), to have been lost at sea.  To discover the truth on this alien island, she disguises herself as a boy, Ceasario, and eventually allies herself with the Duke, Orsino (Michael Mendelson), the head of the community, who she is immediately smitten with.

But the Duke only has eyes for the Lady Olivia (Crystal Ann Muñoz), who has no interest in him but does seem to favor Ceasario, who has been sent by Orsino to her to plead the Duke’s case for love.  Meanwhile Olivia has some very odd but witty servants, among them, Malvolio (David Bodin), a rather droll, petulant manservant (who has a bit of a crush on his mistress) and Maria (Ithica Tell), a mischievous merrymaker, both of whom only add more heat to an already spicy stew.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Olivia has a relative, Sir Toby Belch (Jim Butterfield), a drunk, and his rich, fey friend, Sir Andrew (Orion Bradshaw), a buffoon.   A rather independent and persuasive beggar, Feste (Allen Nause), a witty troubadour, seems to be our outside eyes, looking at the proceedings “through a glass, darkly” and commenting on them, or partaking in them when necessary, to route the story forward.  To say that things may end up in a muddle is an understatement.  And to relate too much more of the story would spoil the fun, but know that “Jack will have his Jill” and that the slippery slope they tumble down will have a softer landing, being that they are together.

Put the plot aside and watch the magic that unfolds before one’s eyes because of the antics, poetry, witty clowns, witless lords and ladies, as they weave a spell to attempt to entrap that elusive, mysterious, bewitching enigma called Love.

The director, Harrow, a Master in her own right, is just the leader for this band of merry pranksters.  What may seem like chaos in this complicated plot is smoothed out by the deft hand and precise path she has led us on, mainly through the character of Feste.  No matter how busy the picture seems to be, there is an Artist’s hand in control to make sure things don’t stray too far from the colorful, contained canvas created by Harrow and troupe.

Also, I noted, the subtle sounds of birds chirping during the day and crickets at night, and waves when on the seashore, checks on reality, I assume…nice touches by sound designer, Sharath Patel in keeping us grounded.  The lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) and set (Jack O’Brien) also are subtle, allowing the actors plenty of room to play in.  A wise choice by Harrow because, after all, “the play’s the thing….”

Mendelson is always good, giving us a stern but rather complex Duke.  Lian and Muñoz give us deeper characters than usual for these two roles, as they push the envelope to the limit, regarding gender issues.  Does Olivia really end up marrying Sebastian simply because he’s a male, or does the warmth of her heart still belong to Ceasario/Viola who is the real foundation of her Love?  Also, speaking of characters, depending on how one of his plays is cut and the interpretation of the director and the actor, will put certain roles to the forefront.  A case in point is that there are three characters who have only retained minimal spotlights in other productions but, in this production, because of the talent of the actors, they are brought to the forefront of the story.

Nause’s, Feste, becomes our POV for the show and it is a murky one, indeed.  He is like a puppeteer, pulling strings and manipulating people/events when necessary to resolve the issues at hand.  It’s as if the other characters are not savvy enough to figure ways to resolve their own plights.  I really quite like this insight to the play and is exposes even more the talents of Nause.  I know we’ll be treated to much more of his in-depth creativity in future shows.

Bradshaw’s, Sir Andrew, is usually just a stupid sidekick for Sir Toby but because of the actor’s talent, this one takes on layers of…ineptness, giving us the fop, the braggart, the dunce, a lemming who will never fit in nor make his mark in the world.  In this incarnation you could feel sorry for the man.  And Heath Koerschgen as Antonio, a sailor, perhaps pirate, but rescuer of Sebastian give us a fellow that is loyal to his friends and feels responsible for the life he saved.  A man of conviction and valor, willing to stand up for what he believes.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing these last two fellows many more times onstage, as they raise the bar a level higher by going deeper into what are usually sideline roles.

I recommend this production.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.