CSC’s ‘Twelfth Night’: The Bard’s situation comedy

 

Malvolio (Fred Sullivan, Jr.), Maria (Sheree Alpert), Viola (Marianna Bassham) and Olivia (Kerry O'Malley) in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common "Twelfth Night".  Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.  Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures.

Malvolio (Fred Sullivan, Jr.), Maria (Sheree Alpert), Viola (Marianna Bassham) and Olivia (Kerry O’Malley) in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common “Twelfth Night”.  Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.  Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures.

BOSTON — Directors have told me that when you’re performing theater outdoors — and presumably, as always, playing to the last person in the last row — that actors’ gestures and expressions have to be outsized and over-emphasized, so they won’t be lost on those further away from the stage. 

The actors are also competing for attention with the distractions inherent with performing outside, including sirens, passers-by and the occasional argument.
Thankfully, modern sound systems and skilled sound designers mean you needn’t scream to make yourself heard above all that is going on around you on, say, the Boston Common in the middle of summer, and you shouldn’t miss a word of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s fast, funny production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” now on the Common through Aug. 10.
“Twelfth Night” is The Bard’s idea of situation comedy, so to speak. A ship carrying a pair of twins, Sebastian ( Nile Hawver ) and Viola (Marianna Basham) wrecks off the coast of Ilyria, and both fear the other is lost.
In the city itself, Duke Orsino (Robert Najarian) has made his feelings known for the noblewoman Olivia (Kerry O’Malley) but he has been rejected at every turn.
Because Viola fears her brother has been lost at sea, and in an effort to remain safe and find her way in a strange land, she becomes the manservant Cesario in the employ of Orsino.
Her work for Orsino brings her in close contact with Olivia, who finds in the young manservant what she has not seen in her/his master.
And Orsino finds in Caserio a puzzling friendship/attraction.

Malvolio (Fred Sullivan, Jr.) and Festes (Remo Airaldi) in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common "Twelfth Night".  Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.  Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Malvolio (Fred Sullivan, Jr.) and Festes (Remo Airaldi) in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common “Twelfth Night”.  Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.  Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

There are cases of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, characters being sent hilariously on fool’s errands, etc., and the cast manages to milk the piece for all available laughs and then some.
Director Steven Maler throws up plenty of guideposts to make sure the novices to Shakespeare stay on track.
Marianna Bassham is somewhat understated as Viola/Caserio — or maybe she just appears understated besides some of the more overstated performances — but she moves easily between the worlds of Orsino and Olivia.
O’Malley is the star of this production as Olivia, measured at first and then passionate in her love for Caserio.
The reliable Robert Pemberton manages to restrain himself from going over the top in the character of Sir Toby Belch, the ever-tippling kin of Olivia, nattily attired in a white suit and ever-ready to make mischief
There’s a somewhat outrageous — and less effective — performance by Conner Christiansen as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Mohawk included, whose portrayal of the nobleman as something less than macho does come in handy when it comes time to a hilarious duel.
Remo Airaldi was one of the best things about last summer’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and here he skillfully orchestrates events as Feste the fool. He is no fool, of course, and it is Fred Sullivan Jr.’s Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, who ends up playing the fool, to the great delight of the audience, when he is convinced by the mischief-makers that Olivia will leap into his arms if he only dresses up in yellow cross-garters.
He mixes it up with the audience in a hilarious scene as he convinces himself that Olivia lusts after him. Sheree Galpert is in on the fun up to her eyeballs as the scheming Maria, Olivia’s maid.
Cristina Todesco’s set is inspired by Miami street art and her staging of the shipwreck
at the outset is imaginative.
Nancy Leary’s costumes are lively and David Remedios’ excellent sound design and the spot-on lighting by Eric Southern add immeasurably to the evening.
As its nears its 20th year of existence, CSC has found its artistic home at Babson College and is spreading its wings in many ways, including an upcoming night of Shakespeare at Fenway Park and a run of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.
The idea of free Shakespeare on the Common seemed as if it might be a short-lived novelty when it first appeared, but CSC’s annual productions have  done nothing but grow through the years, attracting many of the best actors and designers in the area. They have  become a welcome visitor and true sign of summer in the city over the past two decades.
And while the event remains free, those who can are asked to donate $10 towards the cost of the production. A bargain at eight times the price.
The Comnmonwealth Shakespeare Company production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Directed by Steven Maler. Free; suggested donation $10. On the Boston Common through Aug. 10. http://www.commshakes.org.

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