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BWW Review: Main Street Theater's TWELFTH NIGHT Marries Love and Humor

Guy Roberts as Sir Toby Belch in TWELFTH NIGHT

Shakespeare's classic of mistaken identity TWELFTH NIGHT, currently showing at Main Street Theater, begins with Viola (Jessica Boone) and her twin brother Sebastian (Karel He?mánek) missing at sea and presumed dead. Shipwrecked and alone in a strange land, Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario. She finds work as a servant for the duke, Orsino (Charles Frederick Secrease) and falls in love with him. Orsino, however, is one of three men - along with stalwart steward Malvolio (Bill Roberts) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jay DeYonker) - in love with the Countess Olivia (H.E. Jane Thompson, OBE). He sends his new page "Cesario" to woo Olivia for him - a task "Cesario" does a little too well. Meanwhile, Sir Toby Belch (Guy Roberts), Olivia's drunken uncle; Maria (Bree Welch), a maid engaging in a playful flirtation with Sir Toby; and Sir Andrew try to convince Malvolio that it is he that Olivia loves. It's confusion all around, made worse when Sebastian returns, very much alive, but a dead ringer for "Cesario."

Director Rebecca Greene Udden stages a clear, straightforward production that emphasizes clarity. Her set is composed of the most simple of accoutrements-three panels used as doors and a tree here and there. She uses only what is necessary to situate the audience. The clutter-free production reveals the source material. It's a shrewd move on Greene Udden's part. Over-directing a play like TWELFTH NIGHT is just as distasteful as pouring a rich, heavy sauce over a sweet, delicate fish. Moreover, Greene's iteration of TWELFTH NIGHT provides an unexpected release for the audience. It is akin to the slow, deep breath that removes tension from the body, leaving a carefree space for joy.

The actors add to the relaxed atmosphere. No one is too good to play for a laugh, which is quintessential Shakespeare. The bard includes a pickled-herring gas joke. The TWELFTH NIGHT actors ensure you laugh at it.

Owing to the costume and hair design, Jessica Boone is surprisingly believable in the role of a woman disguised as a man. For her part, Boone makes Viola relatable and contemporary, so you begin to believe the more outlandish parts of the plot.

Charles Frederick Secrease is the lovesick but shallow Duke of Illyria, Orsino. Though the actor has?what seems like?fewer scenes, he has a booming presence in the production. It is spectacularly good casting. Secrease almost makes you forget how superficial and put-upon his Orsino's attraction to Olivia (H.E. Jane Thompson, OBE) is.

Salty Mistress Maria (Bree Welch) and the alcoholic Sir Toby (Guy Roberts) have plenty of chemistry and provide plenty of laughs?Sir Toby especially. Roberts staggers as his character plots against Malvolio (Bill Roberts), imploring audience members for a drink.

It is a pleasure to watch Roberts peacock around the stage. His Sir Toby and Jay DeYonker's Sir Andrew are a match made in heaven. The weedy Sir Andrew claims he loves Olivia. However, it is clear he is more interested in making merry with Sir Toby, which is good. If he were truly smitten, he could not defend her hand or honor as evidenced by his fight with Antonio, who is played ably by John Poston.

Feste (Peter Hosking), the fool, is the paradoxically shrewd troubadour. In a play full of drunken humour, he brings a touch of sobriety in the third act with a live song.

Malvolio (Bill Roberts) is Olivia's uptight manservant and TWELFTH NIGHT's unlucky straight man as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria play a cruel prank on him.

The design is incredibly important in that it allows the performers the spotlight, literally in Lighting Designer J. Mitchell Cronin's case, while doing the heavy lifting of making sure the audience was somehow surrounded by verisimilitude without an extravagant set.

Cronin is indispensable, using his skills to create nighttime, a wooden path, or the inside of a noblewoman's home with what seems like simple elements- brightness, darkness, shadow. He also subtly enhances mood and tone. For example, Cronin pours blue over the set when Viola realizes that Sebastian is lost at sea.

Rodney Walsworth, Main Street Theater's resident Properties Designer chooses well. The furniture is charming, as are the costumes. Throughout the play, there is a strain of gold in many of the character's garments that intrigues. This comes courtesy of Houston Shakespeare Festival costume designer Margaret Crowley and the director, Greene Udden. Melissa Carson is the original costume designer for the Prague Shakespeare Company.

Guy Roberts doubles as fight director. His fight scenes are silly as well as believable.

Overall, it's a fun watch and an eye-opener for those who believe that minimalism and metatheatricality belong to the young. Not only did Shakespeare and our many other precursors do it first, they did it literally eons ago.

Synopsis by Natalie de la Garza

TWELFTH NIGHT. Through Jan 10. Fri and Sat at 7:30p and Sunday at 3p. Main Street Theater Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd. $20 - $39 and $10 for students on Fri and Sun. 713-524-6706. For more, visit mainstreettheater.com.

Photo Credit: Kaja Curtis Photography, courtesy of Prague Shakespeare Company

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