REVIEW: Twelfth Night (First Folio)

Indian concept hinders First Folio production

 

Donald Brearley (Toby), Craig Spidle (Feste), Mouzam Mekkar (Maria) & Nick Maroon (Aguecheek)

   
First Folio Theatre presents
   
Twelfth Night
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by
Michael F. Goldberg
at
Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oakbrook (map)
Through August 8th  |  tickets: $23-$28  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

When developing a concept for a Shakespeare production, it is important to keep in mind how the changes will affect the audience’s experience. First Folio and director Melanie Keller (Olivia) & Nick Sandys (Malvolio)Michael F. Goldberg re-imagine Twelfth Night in colonial India, and the concept  comes with a variety of strengths and weaknesses in the outdoor venue.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies, with heroine Viola (Minita Gandhi) disguising herself after a shipwreck separates her from her twin brother Sabastian (Behzad Dabu). As Cesario, Viola finds herself in the employ of Orsino (Anish Jethmalani), a nobleman hopelessly enraptured with the Lady Olivia (Melanie Keller), who falls in love with Cesario, who is really Viola in disguise. Then Sabastian shows up and gets confused with Cesario and everything eventually gets wrapped together in a nice little bow.

The romantic leads don’t seem to have much fire in their performances, with Gandhi and Jethmalani never really establishing a strong chemistry between their characters. Keller fares better in this respect, and I think that is because she isn’t burdened with an Indian dialect.

The choice to have some characters speak in an Indian dialect is unnecessary, and doesn’t add much to the piece besides muddling the diction and verse. It’s impossible to have a strong Shakespeare production without a precise handle on the language, and the dialect restricts the actors, making plots and jokes unclear and making it difficult to follow the action on stage amidst the chirps of crickets and other outdoor distractions. Twelfth Night struggles to really get the momentum moving because of this, and the acting fails to reach the same level of excitement as the design elements.

TwelfthNightPress02That isn’t to say the production isn’t without its charms. The Indian locale does bring an exotic flair to the proceedings, but aesthetics can only go so far. The strongest performances come from Sir Toby (Donald Brearley) and his gang, classic Shakespeare fools that drink and sing and comment on the inanities of the main plot line while relishing in their own silliness. Craig Spidle is a great co-star as the fool Festes, giving his scene’s partners plenty to work off of with his dry wit and perverted sense of humor, and Brearley is quite adept at playing drunk. Nick Sandys dominates the stage as Malvolio, Olivia’s manservant who meets a tragic fate after a prank goes awry. His Malvolio is pretentious, dowdy, and completely clueless, and he has a firmer handle of the language in dialect than his fellow castmates.

From a design perspective, Twelfth Night is spectacular, with the Eastern-inspired costumes and sets creating a beautiful environment for Shakespeare’s comedy to unfold in. Henry Marsh’s score is perhaps the most transformative aspect of the production, filling the outdoor space with the sitar sounds of traditional Hindustani music. The theatre’s Oakbrook location is a beautiful spot for a summer evening of theater, but in an area where sound is going to be a major issue, there shouldn’t be many changes to the language of the piece. By taking the concept too far, the production suffers as a whole, and is just barely saved by above-average supporting performances.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   
Minita Gandhi (Viola) and Anish Jethmalani (Orsino) Donald Brearley (Toby), Craig Spidle (Feste) & Mouzam Mekkar (Maria)
Behzad Dabu (Sabastian), Melanie Keller (Olivia), Anish Jethmaliani (Orsino) & Minita Gandhi (Viola)

All Photos by David Rice.

REVIEW: Jeeves in Bloom (First Folio)

Overblown ‘Jeeves in Bloom’ grows on you

 jib1

First Folio Theatre presents:

Jeeves in Bloom

By Margaret Raether
Based on the characters of
P.G. Wodehouse
Directed by
Alison C. Vesely
At the
Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oak Brook
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

In the opening scene of First Folio Theatre’s Jeeves in Bloom, the characters pursue each other around the garden set in a goofy, stylized chase scene so exaggerated it made me want to run out of the theater. The broad, affected campiness Director Alison C. Vesely has imposed on this Equity production really put me off at first, but after a while, the show began to grow on me.

Margaret Raether’s script does P.G. Wodehouse proud. Loosely grafted and considerably pruned from the British author’s 1922 comic novel “Right Ho, Jeeves,” and light as dandelion fluff, this Chicagoland comedy premiere revolves around the amiable but asinine Bertie Wooster, a London man about town, and his keen-witted  gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Bertie’s old school-chum Gussie Fink-Nottle, a painfully tongue-tied nerd with a passion for newts, has unaccountably fallen in love jib3with a dippy debutante called Madeline Bassett, a sappily romantic girl who believes in fairies, and appealed to Bertie and Jeeves for advice on wooing her. Meanwhile, Bertie’s intrepid Aunt Dahlia enlists the duo’s aid in stealing her own diamonds as a means of hiding her gambling losses from her irascible and dyspeptic husband, Tom Travers. However, their schemes inadvertently entwine Bertie with Madeline and touch off the Travers’ volatile French chef, Anatole, with disastrous consequences for Tom’s digestion. (James Leaming doubles as the bluff Tom Travers and excitable Anatole so ably that I didn’t realize he wasn’t two actors until only one of him turned up for ovations.)

Kevin McKillip’s portrayal of Gussie Fink-Nottle really won me over. As he moaned, “If only I were a male newt!” and bodily demonstrated the mating habits of the minute amphibians, I twigged to the value of the histrionic approach. McKillip’s expressive face and physical comedy constantly delight.

Christian Gray’s hammed-up rendition of Bertie takes some getting used to. With McKillip, Leaming and Melanie Keller as Madeline all chewing the scenery, one would think Bertie could be more understated. When he’s not spitting chunks of backdrop, Gray comes off admirably Woosterian. And my reaction to his over-the-top mugging is perhaps not entirely Gray’s or the director’s fault.

Chicago-area Wodehouse lovers must be forgiven if the vision of Bertie and Jeeves imprinted indelibly on our brains is that of Mark Richard and the late Page Hearn, who played those roles with brilliantly nuanced humor over some nine years at City Lit Theatre. They’re a tough act to follow.

jib4

Jim McCance, in what seems like a rather small role for the title character, presents an older, stouter and stiffer Jeeves than Hearn’s (or the image drawn in the iconic Penguin paperbacks by Ionicus), but his deadpan tone and facial expressions are impeccable.

However, the real stars of this production are McKillip and Jeannie Affelder as Aunt Dahlia. Although I always picture Dahlia as an Englishwoman of the large, horsey and hearty type, the diminutive Affelder dominates the stage in a smart and subtly comic performance.

Everything about this production shows an attention to detail, from Elsa Hiltner’s period costumes to the stage properties. Scenic Designer Angela Miller has beautifully integrated a garden terrace into the high-ceiling event hall of the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate, complete with working fountain, statuary and realistic plants.

So, by the time that thorny opening chase scene was reprised at the end of the first act, I could take it without wincing.

Though more of an overblown rose than a tight bud of comedy, “Jeeves in Bloom” is a fun and enjoyable show.

Rating: ★★★

Note: The performance is 2½ hours, with intermission.

jib3

Jeff Awards announced for 2008-2009 season

PRODUCTION — PLAY – LARGE
Ruined Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club
The SeafarerSteppenwolf Theatre 

PRODUCTION — PLAY – MIDSIZE
The History Boys TimeLine Theatre 

PRODUCTION — MUSICAL – LARGE
Caroline, or Change Court Theatre

PRODUCTION — MUSICAL – MIDSIZE
Tomorrow Morning – Hilary A. Williams, LLC

PRODUCTION — REVUE
Studs Terkel’s Not Working The Second City e.t.c.

ENSEMBLE
The History BoysTimeLine Theatre 

NEW WORK — PLAY
Lynn NottageRuined Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club

NEW ADAPTATION — PLAY
Seth BockleyJonCollaboraction

NEW WORK OR ADAPTATION – MUSICAL
Josh Schmidt, Jan Tranen & Austin PendletonA Minister’s Wife Writers’ Theatre 

DIRECTOR – PLAY
Nick BowlingThe History BoysTimeLine Theatre

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL
Charles NewellCaroline, or Change Court Theatre

DIRECTOR — REVUE
Matt HovdeStuds Terkel’s Not WorkingThe Second City e.t.c.

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — PLAY
Larry Neumann, Jr. – A Moon for the MisbegottenFirst Folio Theatre
William L. PetersenBlackbirdVictory Gardens Theatre 

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — MUSICAL
Joseph Anthony ForondaMiss Saigon Drury Lane Oakbrook

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Saidah Arrika EkulonaRuinedGoodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — MUSICAL
E. Faye ButlerCaroline, or Change Court Theatre

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Max McLeanMark’s GospelFellowship for the Performing Arts

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — PLAY
Alex WeismanThe History Boys TimeLine Theatre

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — MUSICAL
Max Quinlan – The Light in the PiazzaMarriott Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — PLAY
Spencer KaydenDon’t Dress for Dinner – The British Stage Company

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Liz Baltes – A Minister’s WifeWriters’ Theatre
Summer SmartThe Light in the Piazza Marriott Theatre

ACTOR IN A REVUE
Mark David KaplanForbidden Broadway: Dances with the StarsJohn Freedson, Harriet Yellin and Margaret Cotter

ACTRESS IN A REVUE
Amanda Blake DavisStuds Terkel’s Not WorkingThe Second City e.t.c.

SCENIC DESIGN – LARGE
Lucy OsborneTwelfth NightChicago Shakespeare Theater

SCENIC DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Brian Sidney BembridgeThe History Boys TimeLine Theatre

COSTUME DESIGN – LARGE
Mara BlumenfeldThe Arabian NightsLookingglass Theatre

COSTUME DESIGN — MIDSIZE
Rachel LaritzThe Voysey Inheritance Remy Bumppo Theatre

SOUND DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Lindsay JonesThe K of D: An Urban LegendRoute 66 Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN — LARGE
Christopher AkerlindRock ‘n’ Roll Goodman Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN — MIDSIZE
Jesse Klug – Hedwig and the Angry InchAmerican Theater Company

CHOREOGRAPHY
David H. BellThe Boys from Syracuse Drury Lane Oakbrook

ORIGINAL INCIDENTAL MUSIC
Dominic KanzaRuinedGoodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club

MUSIC DIRECTION
Doug PeckCaroline, or Change Court Theatre

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN SPECIAL EFFECTS
Steve Tolin – Special Effects – The Lieutenant of Inishmore Northlight Theatre

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VIDEO DESIGN
Mike Tutaj – Film & Video Design – Tomorrow Morning – Hillary A. Williams

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

the-bean-chicago

show openings

Bury the Dead

O’Malley Theatre

Boolesque Review Piccolo Theatre 

Dave Rudolf Halloween Spooktacular – Center for Performing Arts – GSU

End Days Next Theatre 

Fulcrum Point Plugged In Evanston SPACE

Hard Headed Heart Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Little Shop of Horors Beverly Theatre Guild

The Song Show Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Walworth Face Chicago Shakespeare Theater

skyline-ferris-wheel

show closings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre 

Anna in the Darkness: The Basement Dream Theatre 

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago 

Black Comedy Piccolo Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre 

Death Toll Cornservatory

Disturbed Oracle Productions 

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre 

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 

Erendira Aguijon Theater 

Fear – The Neo-Futurists 

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites 

Journey to the Center of the Uterus Greenhouse Theater Center 

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre 

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre 

Married Alive! Noble Fool Theatricals 

Mistakes Were Made A Red Orchid Theatre 

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre 

Nightmares on Lincoln Ave. Cornservatory 

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre 

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre 

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Theater 

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project 

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes 

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre 

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre 

 

List courtesy of the League of Chicago Theatres 

show openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

1001 The Theatre School at DePaul University

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Theater

Endira Aguijon Theater

The Hundred Dresses Chicago Children’s Theatre

Kill the Old, Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Last (and therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre

Richard III Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theater

Ten Square Pegasus Players and MPAACT

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

 

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre (our review)

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Desperate Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court Chicago dell’Arte

High Fidelity…The Musical Route 66 Theatre

Lorca in a Green Dress Halcyon Theatre

Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Dance Center of Columbia College

Miami City Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Miracle Work Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Set Up Prop Thtr

A Shroud for Lazarus Halcyon Theatre

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Chicago theater openings and closings this week

show openings

Bonbs Away! Bailiwick Repertory

Boys Life Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plaza Suite Eclipse Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Visionfest 2009 LiveWire Chicago Theatre

 

show closings

Bye, Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater 

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction 

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Barbecue 16th Street Theater

Macbeth First Folio Theatre

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex With Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

Trignity Donny’s Skybox

Tupperware: an American Musical Fable The New Colony

Viva Che Latte Donny’s Skybox

What the Weird Sisters Saw the side project

Chicago Theater show openings this week

Chicago Skyline

CARTOON Chemically Imbalanced Theater

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) Gorilla Tango Theatre

DELFOS DANZA CONTEMPORANEADance Center of Columbia College

DIVERSEY HARBOR Theatre Seven of Chicago

DRIVING MISS DAISY Village Players Performing Arts Center

THE GATHERINGImprov Playhouse

JESSICA PRESENTSGorilla Tango Theatre

KATRINA: THE GIRL WHO WANTED HER NAME BACKAdventure Stage Chicago

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTENFirst Folio Theatre

PARLOUR SONG Steep Theatre

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Loyola University Theatre

SCAPINOChicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University

SODA Apollo Theatre Studio

TALK RADIOGift Theatre

THE TEMPESTSteppenwolf Theatre

TWELFTH NIGHTChicago Shakespeare Theater

WATERGorilla Tango Theatre