Review: TWELFTH NIGHT - Hilarity at the Market

By: Sep. 13, 2016

Present Company's current production of Shakespeare at the Market, TWELFTH NIGHT by William Shakespeare is beautiful, hilarious ode to the Bard.

TWELFTH NIGHT, (or What You Will) is arguably the least confusing of Shakespeare's 'twins' comedies. Written around 1601, the play centers on male and female twins Sebastian (Mateo Barerra) and Viola (Amelia Turner) who have been separated in a shipwreck. Tossed apart by the sea and each thinking the other dead, they embark on the shores of Illyria. Sebastian ventures off with the sailor, Antonio, (Toby Minor) who saved him. Viola, finds herself on an alien shore and since it is unwise for a woman to travel alone in a strange land, she disguises herself as a young gentleman, Cesario, and seeks service in the household of Duke Orsino (Judd Farris). Orsino is desperately in love with Olivia (Renee Fulton), a woman who has rejected his suit, instead preferring to remain in deep mourning for the loss of her father and brother. Olivia's household contains several of the best comic roles Shakespeare ever penned. Sir Toby Belch (Omid Ghorashi) is her roguish uncle who invites his hapless friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Kriston Woodreaux) to woo the rich, single Olivia. Maria (Anne Hulsman), Olivia's lady, and Feste (Michael Ferstenfeld) the fool are thick as thieves with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Malvolio (Kevin Moxley), Olivia's steward, serves as foil to any fun that the comic quartet might get up to and chides them mercilessly for their drunken ways. Duke Orsino sends his new man and messenger Cesario/Viola to once again express his love to the reluctant Olivia. His plan backfires when the object of the Duke's affection falls instead for the unknowing young gentleman/lady. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria and Feste plot revenge on Malvolio for spoiling their drunken fun and being a world class prig. Enter Sebastian with Antonio who is reluctant to be seen in Illyria because of a past feud with Duke Orsino and the mistaken identity portion of the play begins. A reunited pair of siblings, forgiveness and true love wrap up the show in true comic Shakespearean fashion.

TWELFTH NIGHT is a longtime favorite of mine, likely because it was the first Shakespeare play I ever saw in live performance as a teenager. The Present Company production is outstanding in every way. The addition of an extremely talented band, The RudesBees (Michael Ferstenfeld, Nathan Daniel Ford, Corinna Marie Browning and Keith Adam Paxton) add live music to a show filled with song. While the lyrics are Shakespeare's, the music is composed by director Joseph Garlock, the effect is very charming indeed. The performance opens with a primer on Shakespearean language to get the audience's ears accustomed to Elizabethan poetry. Mercutio's Queen Mab speech from ROMEO AND JULIET has never been funnier than as presented by Kriston Woodreaux and Judd Farris. As the play itself began the cast set the tone, landing every joke to perfection. A brilliant mix of physical comedy and spot on characterization makes for an utterly delightful evening. It's difficult to select any one actor for extra praise as they were all uniformly wonderful. I must commend Amelia Turner's Viola, she shines in the role and never lets her energy waver, even for the briefest of moments. The quartet of Ferstenfeld, Hulsman, Ghorashi and Woodreaux make the most of every comic opportunity with obvious relish. Ferris as Orsino and Fulton as Olivia are charmingly regal in their roles as Illyrian nobles. Moxley's turn as Malvolio elicits belly laughs at his eventual misfortune. Barerra and Minor are both dashing and heroic as Sebastian and Antonio. While Paxton, Ford and Browning round the remainder of the talented supporting cast as well as being part of the RudesBees. Director Joseph Garlock has done a magnificent job of keeping the action flowing smoothly while allowing his cast time to play the characters as they were meant to be. The Whole Foods rooftop venue is beautiful and breezy after sunset as the lights of Austin sparkle all around. The cast deftly handled noise distractions and The RudesBees broke into Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues whenever a train made it's way across the Lamar Boulevard trestle. Lighting designed by Patrick Anthony illuminates the acting spaces while using shadow to great effect, a difficult task given the non traditional venue. It is always refreshing to see Shakespeare played in unconventional spaces without the trappings of heavy Elizabethan costumes. We know historically that the Bard's plays were performed in inn yards, meeting halls and just about anywhere an audience could be gathered. The key to producing Shakespeare is a delicate balance of actors, action and words, Present Company achieves perfection in this and more. Indeed, this is how Shakespearean comedy should be done, with a light heart, a song and much, much laughter.

I give my highest recommendation to TWELFTH NIGHT, for pure, light, and hilarious entertainment. If you go, I suggest that you make an RSVP with the company so you are assured of a seat. Bring your own chairs, blankets, food and drink to make it an evening of it. The house opens for seating at 6:30 PM and the show begins at 7:00 PM, so show up a little early as there will be a queue to get in. You may want to bring a hat to shade your eyes before sunset and dress lightly because September in Austin is still pretty darned hot. The temperature may be warm, but the cast is on fire and it's well worth your time to attend, you will leave the rooftop with a smile in your heart.

Poster art by Sarah Presson of Eye Like Design

Photo by Stephanie Carll

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joseph Garlock
Shakespeare at the Market
The Rooftop of Whole Foods Market, 525 N. Lamar Blvd.

September 9th - October 2nd
Seating opens at 6:30PM, Performance begins at 7:00 PM
Free and ample parking is available in the Whole Foods parking garage.

Running Time: 2.5 hours with one 15 minute intermission

Tickets: Admission is free, but a suggested donation of $20 supports the artists and event.