The Arts, Etc.

The Drama Studio

41 Oakland Street, Springfield MA

Shakespeare's Lively Romantic Comedy

Fridays at 7:30 PM, March 19 & 26, 2010
Saturdays at 7:30 PM, March 20 & 27
Sundays at 6:30 PM, March 21 & 28


Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson

The Drama Studio's best recruiting tool is the outstanding quality of their productions: their students are poised, their acting polished; the sets, costumes, choreography are striking; the lighting complements the action. The responsibility for imparting respect for a work ethic that aspires to attaining high standards belongs to the teaching staff and in particular, to those who direct.

All these components are present in the Drama Studio's mounting of Shakespeare's romantic comedy, Twelfth Night. To read a synopsis of this two-act romp is to court confusion, but to watch the action unfold is to be delightfully entertained. Shakespeare expects us to believe that a pretty young girl can pass herself off as a boy. (Well, why not? Anne Hathaway did it last summer in Central Park.) Both a man and a woman fall in love with the "boy."  The drowned return alive from the oceanic abyss. A pompous bore is put in his place. The girl masquerading as a boy blossoms as a girl and couples marry. The last word wraps up the coda: "Some are born great, others achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

For the setting, Shakespeare chose the Kingdom of Illyria (roughly 400 BC to 167 BC) but at the Drama Studio, cooler heads (in the full sense of this modernized idiom) prevailed and the place is Bermuda, maybe the early 1950s when ladies' hemlines lapped below the knees and men's Bermuda shorts cleared their knees the better to show off the colorful de rigeur argyle kneesocks. The suggestion of a nearby sea keeps a patio in a mist except during the late evenings when a full moon glows low in the sky.

The interior space serves as homes for both Count Orsino (Jacob Mueller) and Lady Olivia (Allison Reardon). This differentiation is not mentioned in the program probably because there are too many comings and goings that make this distinction too moot to mention. Far more important to the story is that Orsino pines for the elegant Lady Olivia who because she is mourning the death of her brother, is not entertaining marriage proposals. A violent storm at sea washes onto the shore flotsam, namely, Viola (Emily Walthouse), twin of Sebastian whom she believes has drowned. She assumes a male Identity, Cesario, and is hired by Count Orsino. Masquerading as a boy would have made more sense had the play not been updated, but I mention this only because it is of no consequence. The point is, the stage is set for Orsin's yearning for Olivia and her mourning for her dead brother to be compromised by their attraction to Cesario who is really Viola.

These three characters are attractive people, although we don't get to know Orsino as well as we do Olivia and Viola and that's quite acceptable because Olivia wears beautiful dresses made of silky materials always accompanied by an inspired concoction perched on her head. She is, by turns, gracious, imperial and stern. Viola's Cesario has to use her/his brand new boyish wits to stay ahead of being wooed by Olivia when, in truth, the young woman within the boy is falling in love with her employer, Orsino. Emily Walthouse is the lithe and lovely Viola who with the help of a wig of cropped hair, a pencilled mustache, and subtle boyish postures, becomes a credible Cesario. She also imparts a lyrical delivery of The Bard's immortal phrases.

Shakespeare created not one but two sets of Three Stooges trios. The perennially sloshed Sir Toby (Greg Boilard) and Sir Andrew (Seth Olsen) both in white jackets as befits their social status, plus Feste (Colby Herchel) in one set and Charlie Fullwood (Fabian) in another come close to absconding with the play -- they are that droll, that comical. Seth Olsen is a natural comedian -- double takes, slow takes, his intensity, and always in character: when not speaking, he's listening and reacting, a technique practiced by others, especially Viola/Cesario and Olivia's maid, Maria (Abbie Gregory) who swings between household duties and creator of mischief. Her merriment at playing practical jokes on stuffy retainer Malvolio is infectious. Her eyes dance. Mat Bussler's Malvolio is the stodgy self-absorbed bore everyone wants to have decked by a banana peel.

Throughout this silly confection, Bermudan touches impart island life. Energy-charged Gombey dancers (Kyla Kate Dudley and Maya Lawrence) in festive costumes of tropical colors, open and close the play. The flooring of large square and free-form tiles, wooden shutters of deep blue, a stucco wall of raspberry pink, palm trees, a large rattan chair suggest balmy days and nights. The Run Crew (Sara Berliner and Jessie Berliner) are efficient scene changers. The Wardrobe mistresses, Victoria Montagna and Rachel Gallagher, have created a time and place where real royalty, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once held sway, and where the Lady Olivia gives their essence a run for its money.

This Twelfth Night is a lovely production. Its high standards, channeled energy and cohesivenss is directly traceable to its director, Steve Hays.

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