Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Frog and Peach Theater Company
February 25, 2019
Ambiguity in Illyria
The founders of Frog and Peach, Lynnea Benson and Ted Zurkowski, began the company with the goal of making Shakespeare “playful and down to earth,” i.e. accessible to all. This is a great idea, and undoubtedly their group has introduced many people to the Bard but in this case it doesn’t make a great production.
Twelfth Night is a comedy that deals with gender bending, mistaken identity, practical joking, and sort-of-madness, set in an entirely invented locale. The scenery by Asa Benally is attractive: chairs, bits of china and a ladder, festooned with clearly fake palm trees but why? No one references the set, goes near it or even indicates it’s there so what purpose does it serve? The costumes, also credited to Benally, are more successful: a complicated black dress on the wealthy countess Olivia and a deliberately mismatched black-and-red outfit on her maid, Maria, played by Amy Frances Quint, one of the few actors who seems to realize she is speaking Shakespeare’s words. Too many of the other actors muddle their lines and speak haltingly although Richard James Porter as Malvolio, a stick in the early scenes, comes to life once the cruel trick played on him is revealed. Also noteworthy, Steve Mazzoccone as Feste the Clown, who does a good job especially with his rendition of “The Rain It Raineth Every Day,” which closes the production. We don’t know what the original music was for this ditty so this version, credited to Zurkowski, works nicely.
In one of the early scenes there is a prolonged struggle between two sailors that pulls the audiences’ attention away from Alyssa Diamond’s Viola as she explains why she is where she is and, more importantly, why she is dressed as a boy. This misdirection of focus, presumably a result of Benson’s direction, doesn’t help anyone understand what is happening nor does it do the play any favors.
This production is very broad, at times almost slapstick, and I’m not sure that if it serves as anyone’s introduction to Shakespeare it will have them returning for more. It is presented as a mish-mash of periods hewing to none, beginning with a tango that is delightful but stops abruptly so that John Reed Wexler as Orsino, the male love interest, can declaim “if music be the food of love, play on.” What purpose the tango serves beats me unless it’s simply part of the general amalgamation of styles, presumably to make the work accessible. As the press release asserts, “the pace is swift” but fast doesn’t necessarily translate into comprehensible. I suspect that some cast members are quite good at handling comedy but Twelfth Night is a challenging work requiring special skills to pull it off effectively. While this is an energetic, enthusiastic take, it’s not a fully rounded production. However, any ensemble trying to bring Shakespeare to the attention of today’s audience deserves a large round of applause for the effort.
Frog and Peach Theatre Company was founded in 1997 by members of The Actors Studio. It “streamlines” works, mostly comedies, to entertain modern audiences who may feel “shut or priced out”. A little more rehearsal and a clearer vision of what each character is aiming for could make this version of Twelfth Night more focused and relieve the feeling of the episodic.
Back to the book, folks.