|October 14 - November 18, 1990, TWELFTH
NIGHT ran at the LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE in La Jolla,
California. In this Shakespeare play, James Morrison played Duke Orsino.
The play is set during the traditional post-Christmas revels -- a time of feasting, masquerades, topsy-turvy and conviviality -- before the return to January reality. The triggers of the story are Viola and Sebastian. Identical twins of a good family in another country, they are separated in a shipwreck and deposited, each without the other's knowledge, in Illyria.
Duke Orsino is pining with lovesick melancholy over Olivia who rejects his courtly advances with a lofty vow to mourn in seclusion seven years for her recently dead brother. Both are posing, playing games of fashionable courtliness.
Into this stalemate falls Viola. A maiden stranded friendless in a foreign land; she feels safer disguised as a boy. She finds a job as a page to Orsino, then starts complications by falling in love with him.
Soon Orsino is sending the disguised Viola to plead his cause with Olivia; and that lady, her mourning abruptly discarded, furthers the plot by falling in love with the messenger. Viola must juggle the pair while concealing her own identity, dutifully courting the one who wants her on behalf of the one she wants.
Steward of Olivia's household, Malvolio is head bean counter. He is loathed by all including his mistress, Maria, who calls him "sick of self-love" and "tamed with a distemper'd appetite." Malvolio yearns to seize control of this happy world and shape it more to his liking. He alone can not hear the play's music and doesn't wish to. There is no place for him in the carefree social spectrum of Illyria.
He is vulnerable to an elaborate plot devised by the clever wench Maria ("a beagle true-bred") and executed by Sir Toby Belch, a distant kinsman of Olivia who has dedicated himself to dissipation and riotous revel. Though corpulent and obscene, Sir Toby is no Falstaff. He is more ready to fight and less dependent upon his wits, as he leeches off Olivia's dutiful dole. For petty cash, he bilks the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a hapless dolt with designs of his own on Olivia.
This group, having overheard Malvolio ambitiously musing, plants a letter -- supposedly from Olivia -- which makes Malvolio think she is romantically interested in him. His eagerness suddenly at full heat, Malvolio moves on his feelings. Olivia is appalled, and Malvolio is horrified by the spectacle.
The tricked and exposed Malvolio, spurned by all, slinks off with a threat, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." That throws a brief chill over the rejoicing and moves both Olivia and Orsino to second thoughts.
At a deliberate comic pace -- with a bit of tempering melancholy appropriately allowed amid the revelry -- and with a kind of post-modern elegance, Des McAnuff directs TWELFTH NIGHT giving due respect to every nuance of Shakespearean smut. It's a deliciously bawdy and visually beautiful production which links our present great appetite for ribaldry with the similar tastes of Renaissance England (before their period of Puritan repression descended).
Neil Patel's immense marmoreal set, which resembles the lobby of a bank, hotel or museum, conspires magically with Chris Parry's dazzling lighting effects to create inset vistas of undulating sea and opalescent sky, and it surprises and amuses with many scenic tricks and jokey transformations.
It is on this splendid area, with its broad, step stairs, that McAnuff creates stage compositions with the whimsy, glow and symmetrically of Maxfield Parrish pictures.
Christina Haatainen's wildly eclectic, anachronistic costumes enhance this effect: Malvolio, for instance, starts out in the garb of a Wall Street stockbroker but reverts to traditional 16th century finery for his yellow- hosiery-with-crossgarters escapades. And Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are dressed as some species of Victorian vaudeville zanies; Sir Toby much resembles an incarnation of W.C. Fields, while Sir Andrew strongly reminds us of a clownish Stan Laurel.
Indeed, Felder and Youmans, and the rest of the cutups -- including a highly musical Feste who not only sings folk-rock style, but plays mandolin, electric bass, harmonica, snare drum and kitchen percussion -- perform their considerable shtick with not a little of the elaborate formality which informed the gags and pratfalls of Laurel and Hardy. All the while they give full value to their lines, even to the obscurest of the ancient puns.
This is a much less frantic TWELFTH NIGHT than many we have seen, yet not a whit less funny for its skillful restraint -- though there are, indeed, moments of fine comedic excess.
TWELFTH NIGHT offers comedy, both high and low, sentimental and realistic, clever and broad. It celebrates a glorious imaginary world of beauty and romance while remaining solidly grounded in the ordinary. Synopsized from reviews by Welton Jones, Theatre Critic for San Diego Union and George Weinberg-Harter for Drama-Logue
"James Morrison makes Orsino's excessive romanticism believably perfervid in a role that can easily careen into foppish overplaying." George Weinberg-Harter