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BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT at Quill Theatre

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Shakespeare returns to Agecroft Hall

BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT at Quill Theatre Post-pandemic news flash: Outdoor Shakespeare at Agecroft Hall is still one of the chief pleasures of a Richmond summer.

The opening-night audience for Quill Theatre's new production of "Twelfth Night" was clearly delighted to be back at the beautiful Tudor manor for an outdoor, socially distanced evening performance. The location is different--out on the back lawn with bring-your-own folding chairs, instead of on bleachers in the courtyard--but the pleasures are the same. Even on an uncomfortably hot day, somehow the sun goes down, the breeze comes in off the river, and the patrons are remarkably comfortable.

First up is a musical introduction by Feste, rowdily embodied by Levi Meerovich. Then on to the story of shipwreck/separated twins/disguised identity. Viola and Sebastian are the twins; each thinks the other has drowned. They show up separately in Illyria, where Count Orsino is pining for the lady Olivia, who is in mourning and unreceptive to suitors. Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario. She enters the service of Orsino and becomes the love object of said Olivia. Meanwhile, ship captain Antonio arrives in Illyria with Sebastian, who's so identical to Viola that Olivia takes him for her beloved Cesario. Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch, along with his friend Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia's maid Maria, plot against Olivia's officious steward Malvolio, engendering much hilarity.

Dr. Jan Powell directed this production, which runs nearly three hours--a bit languid in the pacing, but with lots of laughs. This is a goofy comedy, with no less five characters who register on the clown scale. Powell's updating of the play includes '60s pop-tune snippets during scene transitions--cheery and welcome--and the unfortunate substitution of bell bottoms for Malvolio's iconic cross garters--nitpicky, perhaps, but those garters were sorely missed.

The more serious characters include Orsino, feelingly played by Michael Blackwood; Olivia, showcasing the unfailing intelligence of Michelle Greensmith; Viola, well served by the freshness of Emily Berry; Sebastian, showing another leap forward in range for the remarkable Mitchell Ashe; and Antonio, played with boldness and authenticity by Lucretia Marie. And the clowns, in addition to Meerovich's Feste, are the lively Erica Hughes as Maria; Foster Solomon as the mischievous Belch, especially funny in his drunk scene; Cole Metz, clearly born to play the self-important Malvolio; and Kurt Benjamin Smith, hilarious as a spider-limbed Aguecheek.

The back-lawn setup at Agecroft brings a new set of technical challenges to Quill. BJ Wilkinson's lighting works well; the simple stage is serviceable. Anna Bialkowski's costumes are evocative and amusing, with special mention to the gauzy jumpsuit in which she dresses Olivia. But the sound system doesn't quite do its job; cues were missed, static happened, and some actors' mikes were less clear than others'.

All told, an amusing night's entertainment, perhaps a big long-winded, but also long-awaited. It's great to have theater back.

"Twelfth Night"

At Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Rd., Richmond

Through August 14

Tickets $33 (discounts for students and seniors)

Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org


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