“Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children;
he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences.” — Bertrand Russell
Dallas — What does one look for in a comedy? Whether it’s Shakespeare or teen movies, one finds some common themes: wit, charm, music and sexual innuendo. The title “Twelfth Night” refers to a post-Tudor English festival marking the Epiphany and end of the Christmas season. It was a time for food and drink, as well as role reversals: servants could become the king and queen of the revels through chance. It had the feel of a winter Mardi Gras party.
Dallas Theater Center’s Twelfth Night brings the “party” aspect front and center and adds a dose of the summer pastoral by setting the entire play on an expansive and detailed set made to look like a beach. Director Kevin Moriarty is not afraid to take risks with his plays, once telling a journalist "Dear God in heaven, not to be boring in the theater is the hardest thing. Better they stand up and storm out than they fall asleep."
No one is going to fall asleep in this production.
Stripped down to 90 minutes and filled with modern pop music played by a three-piece band that also stands in for several characters, the production is high energy throughout. Especially the comedic duo of Liz Mikel as Madam Toby Belch and Blake Hackler as Sir Andrew Aguacheek. Whether it was Mikel’s creative weapon selection during the fight scenes (wonderfully choreographed by Nicole Berastaqui) or Hackler’s color commentary of the action from the orchestra seats, the duo had the audience in stitches throughout the night. Most of the jokes were at the expense of Malvolio, dexterously played by Alex Organ. His solo scene at the midpoint of the play on discovering the forged letter had the audience cheering.
Mistaken identity is a key piece of the plot in this play (like so many other of Shakespeare’s comedies), so to avoid Moriarty’s greatest fear in theater, we will avoid recounting the plot points, but focus on how well he and the cast pull off their interpretations. Ace Anderson as Antonio is terrific. The choice in how the production expresses the relationship between him and Sebastian (Christopher Llewyn Ramirez) holds up textually. My only slight critique is the choice to not build any tension between the two when introducing them. Though we must close the book on that relationship by the end of the play, there is time to do it in their first scene together.
The relationship between David Matranga as Duke Orsino and Delphi Borich as Cesario/Viola isn’t an incredibly wild interpretation either. Borich excels in her comedic scenes with Olivia (Tiffany Solana DeSena, the Duke’s first love interest), her chemistry with Matranga in their scenes lacked the sense of sacrifice d’amour that the rest of her characters action belie.
Three cheers for set designer Anna Louizos; it was an audacious choice and exquisitely detailed. I’m all for interactive theater and don’t mind a bit of water gun jets going astray, but if I can make a small request to Ms. Louizos to find a good large grain sand supplier, I think that would help audience members who sit in the first few rows avoid a bit of a dust induced cough that seems to last 24 hours or so after the play. The lighting (Clifton Taylor) and sound (Andrea Almond) added a great deal of immersiveness. As did the costume design by Mari Taylor, which even extended to the ushers, aiding in the audience getting settled into Illyria beach.
We have in some degree Anthony Burgess to thank for the degree with which directors can plum the depths of Shakespeare’s plays to find the infinities within. Moriarty, his cast and his crew have expressed the text in an unorthodox but incredibly lively manner. You may not get to see another like it.