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Twelfth Night ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company At Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
November 22, 2017

Antoinette Robinson as Viola - Photo credit Scott Suchman

Antoinette Robinson as Viola – Photo credit Scott Suchman

The last words you’d expect to hear while settling into your seat for Twelfth Night, are an airline boarding announcement.  “Thank you for choosing Shakespeare,” the disembodied voice offers up to the audience.  But this is the unorthodox journey you are about to embark on in Director Ethan McSweeney’s fantastic in-flight interpretation of Shakespeare’s text (okay, it’s a tad over-emphasized) and his modern-day application.  In Feste’s own words, “Nothing that is so, is so.”  Count on it.

McSweeny, along with Set Designer Lee Savage, gives us one of the company’s most exciting openings to date.  STC’s soon-to-retire Artistic Director Michael Kahn long ago mentored McSweeny who was told by Kahn to come back in 20 years.  He has.  And it’s paid off handsomely.

Hannah Yelland as Olivia and Antoinette Robinson as Viola in Twelfth Night by Scott Suchman. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Hannah Yelland as Olivia and Antoinette Robinson as Viola. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Set in an international departure lounge our characters line up for airport security checkpoints only to soon be tossed about like ragdolls when a freak snowstorm throws their plane off-course.  Viola (Antoinette Robinson) surrounded by the plane’s lost baggage, regains consciousness amid the blowing snow.  If at this point you aren’t sitting straight up in your seat with your jaw hanging open, go home.  If you are, then you’re in for a wild ride worthy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” meets Fellini.

McSweeney has chosen a modernist stage setting never before utilized in Sidney Harman Hall.  Side walls are stripped away to reveal the theater’s original configuration when it was once expected to double as a concert venue.  It is surprisingly beautiful with dark wood paneling, high walls, viewable side walkways, and elevated catwalk.

Andrew Weems as Sir Toby Belch, Derek Smith as Malvolio and Hearth Saunders as Feste in Twelfth Night by Scott Suchman ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Andrew Weems as Sir Toby Belch, Derek Smith as Malvolio and Hearth Saunders as Feste. ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Though you are undoubtedly familiar with the play’s plot of unattainable love – the Countess Olivia of Illyria (Hannah Yelland) loves Malvolio (Derek Smith) who becomes imprisoned in a dog carrier while sporting full Scottish regalia (he misinterpreted the memo), and Viola loves Sebastian (Paul Deo, Jr.) who thinks she’s his male page, Cesario, etcetera, etcetera.  Here, Fabian (Koral Kent alternates with Tyler Bowman) is imagined as a wanton child, expected to do Sir Toby’s bidding.  There is enough mistaken identity to keep us intently intrigued and plenty of cleverly conceived costuming by Jennifer Moeller to bedazzle and amuse.

Jim Lichtschedl as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Jim Lichtschedl as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Cowardly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jim Lichtscheidl) is portrayed as a wannabe rock star and sports-minded dilettante – think polo, tennis, fencing – who along with Sir Toby Belch (Andrew Weems), a slovenly, bathrobe-clad, karaoke-singing drunkard in love with Maria (Emily Townley), manage to provide enough comic relief for two plays.  Together they lean heavily on cocktails from the on-board beverage cart and lines of cocaine to fuel their madcap revels while Orsino (Bhavesh Patel) and Curio (Matthew Deitchman) whirl about on scooters, entering and exiting the scene in flashy, slim-cut, brocade suits.  To remind us this was written in 1602 with a holiday theme, a Christmas tree figures into a hide-and-seek skit of insanely hilarious proportions.

But it is Feste played brilliantly by Heath Saunders who grounds the goings-on with original music by composer Lindsay Jones.  Saunders, who in real life plays twelve different musical instruments, plays bass and guitar here.  His dulcet voice both anchors and ameliorates the lunacy.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through December 20th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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