Quantum Theatre’s Karla Boos has come up with a delightfully charming version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Her excellent directorial concept with a nearly perfect cast carrying it out, renew the life in this thoroughly familiar comedy. Boos and her actors do not radically transform the characters or the story but make it all live again, enriching the spirit of fun without pushing or overdoing it. Here, the emphasis is on people taking themselves too seriously, never knowing that they are foolish, becoming unwittingly comic.
To make sure you remember the play, the best known people in it are Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek whose ludicrous qualities along with their names have become indelible. In the center of the plot are the highly earnest Olivia and Orsino. Orsino believes because he is so passionate about Olivia that she’s obliged to love him. She, forswearing the company of men, swiftly finds her resolve crumbling encountering a boy sent to woo her on Orsino’s behalf. That boy is really a girl, wandering and homeless Viola whose twin brother Sebastian eventually arrives. Malvolio, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are in Olivia’s circle as is Feste, most often defined a clown, although not in this instance.
Boos always keeps the touch light and the pacing lively. And Robin Abramson’s Viola brims with winning personality, most of it while Voila has assumed the guise of a boy which she never forces. Abramson makes it all truthful, simple and gentle. No wonder Olivia falls in love. Meanwhile Robin Walsh expertly makes believable Olivia’s constant disarray. I don’t think, though, that Mark Staley found the subtle comic possibilities in Orsino. John Gresh turns the perpetually soused, perpetually playful Sir Toby into a jolly delight and Tony Bingham finds clever comic possibilities in Sebastian. As Malvolio, Gregory Lehane does something quite unexpected, an excellent choice. Malvolio is often played as initially laughable, but Lehane makes him totally serious, a good counterpoint to all that happening around him where seemingly respectable people don’t know that they are fools. On the other hand, the actual fool character, Feste, is often played as wise and reasonable. A good contrast. But, in this case, young, marginally experienced Justin DeWolf does nothing at all with that role.
Boos has made a few strange choices in costuming and staging, albeit peripheral. Most of the cast comes generically attired, suggesting no period. Several people wear visible, tight black corsets, I suppose to suggest characters seeking to control themselves. On the other hand Sir Andrew’s clothes look incongruously near Elizabethan. Plus, to symbolize money, “purses” in the script, she has everyone passing along credit cards. Odd. And she needlessly uses door buzzers to summon people who could just as easily be called directly. Maybe there are symbolisms which I missed.
As is often true in a Quantum production, the setting adds a further dimension. In this case Boos borrows an abandoned building along functioning railroad tracks beneath the South Millvale Avenue Bridge, a courtyard of the former West Penn Hospital Foundation Research Facility. With seats arranged on platforms facing the courtyard it becomes a fine amphitheatre. Crickets chirp, birds twitter and, once in a while, a train chugs nearby, all making no special point but adding to the appeal.
Everything feels so fresh. And, as the moon rises above the trees, so will your spirits lift.
Twelfth Night continues through August 21st at The West Penn Hospital Foundation Research Facility, 720 Gross Street, Bloomfield
Tickets through ShowClix 1-888-71-TICKETS i.e. 1-888 718 4253 or at www.quantumtheatre.com