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 – "Much Ado About Nothing" at First Folio

by Venus Zarris

The Bard verses Nature; at First Folio it is a dead heat!

I am not an outdoorsy kind of person. Given the choice between an air-conditioned theater and a summer night outside with mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, I am inclined to choose ‘civilized shelter.’ But the sweet and talented folks at First Folio Shakespeare Festival combine impressive theatrical production with breathtaking natural setting to create a perfect evening of entertaining escape.

Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.I say escape for three reasons. One, you are transported into the world of Shakespeare’s classic comedy by a completely engaging cast. Two, you are swept away by the natural wonders of the lovely Peabody Estate. And three, you are far from the hectic city limits.

But rest assured, if your ‘First Folio Get Away’ is anything like ours you will not only count your evening as one of the summer’s best but as one to be remembered for years to come. Pack a picnic, assemble your favorite cohorts and prepare to relax and enjoy.

Birds, Bats, Breezes, Fireflies and… a turtle?

We packed some delicious delicacies and subtle spirits. Anxious to indulge and imbibe, we planned to arrive a little early, the play starts at 8:15pm but the grounds open at 7pm. As we turned into the entrance I noticed something on the side of the access road. It was a turtle! Unable to climb the curb, he seemed destined for trouble so we parked and I picked him up. Turtles pee when they are scared and this guy was evidently terrified! But a quick trip to the lake behind the estate mansion and he was eagerly swimming back to safety.

(I add the little turtle aside because in my personal experience, turtles have been good luck charms and delightful omens. True to form, he foreshadowed a positively delightful night!)

We set up our picnic and were refreshed by subtle and unexpected spontaneous cool breezes. Birds playfully flew around the stage and as dusk set in the fireflies added delicate and restrained intermittent fireworks to the festivities. Paying close attention overhead, I noticed a pair of bats doing their part to keep the bug population at bay and add to the already enchanting atmosphere.

As the night progressed the moon slowly emerged from behind the treetops. Almost full, its beauty was easily underestimated but that night it was simply partial and premature sublime perfection. Its waxing excellence exceeded the drama of its pending fullness.

If there was one natural element that needed to be ‘toned down’ it was the boisterous crickets. Obviously unaware of Shakespeare’s impressive and historic theatrical reputation, they did their best to sing over the actors. Thankfully, a state of the art sound system thwarted their disrespectful efforts.

Shakespeare’s writing is so timeless that it can be delivered with bare bones or lavish production values and engage on either scale. But the added element of nature created a beguiling accent that almost threatened to usurp the already impressive theatrical offering.

Much Ado About A Lot

Before the play’s exposition even gets started we are warmed up by a brilliant fluffing from the antics of Verges, adorably played by Keland Scher. Scher has charm and sweetness galore as he juggles, flirts and clowns with the audience creating the perfect pre-show mood. Oftentimes, this sort of interactive audience participation can prove to be obnoxious, corny or embarrassing but Scher is brimming with playful talent and is as lovable as a cartoon bunny.

Bickering, blundering, deception, redemption and ultimately, after some bumbling and revelation, requited love are the forces at work in Much Ado About Nothing. Between the entanglements and resolution Shakespeare has created Much Ado about an awful lot and the first rate cast delivers the goods with clarity and charm.

A scene from Melissa Carlson and Nick Sandys provide the most excitement with their clever verbal jabs and retorts. Carlson’s Beatrice, the confirmed spinster, is venomously shrewd and Sandys’s Benedick, the confirmed bachelor, is lyrically adroit. They elevate the juvenile game of ‘taunt your undeclared love interest’ to a wickedly witty and articulate exchange. Rene Ruelas renders an amusingly eccentric Friar Francis to add to the fun.

Andre Pluess’s sound design and original composition add even more natural texture and subtle elegance to the production. Michael Goldberg’s straightforward direction of the excellent ensemble and gifted design team create an outstanding rendition of the classic comedy.

You decide who prevails, theater or nature. Either way, it is a WIN/WIN proposition for the audience.

Gather up your friends for a little road trip and enjoy exceptional theater in a remarkable atmosphere. First Folio Shakespeare Festival is a brilliant addition to this summer full of marvelous Shakespearean options. It is a tucked away treasure that is well worth the drive.

Rating: ««««

(“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067)

 

"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067