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The New American Shakespeare Tavern1
Average Rating Given : 4.50000
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Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare tavern deserves Ovation
Monday, January 21, 2008
I laughed myself silly at the Shakespeare Tavern’s production of Twelfth Night. I’ve seen the show a few times before, but this was the first time that I enjoyed the actual actors as much as I enjoyed the play. So many of these actors truly evoked my sympathy, and made me desperately want the right things to happen for them even though I knew the play and how it all would end. This bunch of actors has superb comic timing, and they really know how to work a crowd.

As they frequently do at the Shakespeare Tavern, the show began with live sound effects (the ocean, in this case) and multiple musicians, including those actors playing Orsino and Feste, who played a violin and a lute, respectively. (That’s another thing about the Original Practice Shakespeare work at the Shakespeare Tavern – where else are you gonna go in Atlanta to see a guy play the lute?!?) Later in the play, J.C. Long (Orsino) also demonstrated significant skill on the classical guitar, and a harp managed to be heard from backstage at one point, too.

The first standout was Amee Vyas as Viola/Cesario. Though one can tell from the first scene that Vyas is a very attractive lady, she entered as Cesario with a stance and manner masculine enough to pass muster but not so overdone that it detracted from any of her scenes. Though there were moments that pandered to the obvious “I’m playing a man, here” gag, for the most part, Vyas simply stood and moved as any young man might, and the fact that they did not overplay these gags meant a much better show. (The same may be said of Tiffany Porter, who played Fabian – a male role. After two or three minutes, I forgot that Porter was a female playing a male role and simply took the role on its own terms.) Vyas as Viola was in turns comic, enchanting, and heartbreaking. Her Viola wore every emotion on her sleeve, and her scenes with Orsino were sexy, electric, and moving, particularly in the moments when she cannot tell him that she loves him. She is the loveliest Viola I have seen – and I’ve seen some good ones.

The same may be said for Matt Nitchie’s Malvolio. Yes, he does an excellent job (as most Malvolios do) of making the audience laugh AT him and roll their eyes at his pomposity. But Nitchie also makes Malvolio so real and so human, and so desperate for Olivia’s love, that it is very hard to hate him. In addition to some wonderfully comic interpretations of his lines, Nitchie actually lets us see into Malvolio’s soul. At the end, I felt sorry for him, not at all convinced that he “got what he deserved”. In his case, if “M” stands in Olivia’s letter for “Malvolio”, it must also stand in the audience’s mind for “Magnifique!”

Also strong in the cast are Matthew Trautwein (the previously-mentioned lute player) as Feste. At first I thought it strange casting, since he does not have a face or body that lends itself to “fool” – he looks more the “tortured poet” or “Lord of the manor in a Jane Eyre novel” type with his strong bone structure, long scraggly hair, and height. But Trautwein brings a surprising yet strangely justified darkness to Feste that is also frequently absent in other actors’ portrayals, and somehow makes it work. Rivka Levin as the adorable, bossy, mischievous Maria also deserves credit for her performance, as does Mike Niedzweicki for his understated but passionate Antonio.

The only weak link that I saw was Bahama Lynch as Olivia, who gave a solid performance but seemed to have missed the boat in some of her scenes. As an example, when she first meets Cesario, she is alternately giggly (isn’t she meant to be in mourning for her dead brother?) and strident, with no obvious motive to treat the young man so harshly. Furthermore, when she is angry or upset, Lynch’s voice aims for a monotonous shout, and I found it grating. I will say, however, that her light-footedness as “Olivia-in-love” gave her a fairy-like quality that was charming.

Overall, this is a superb production with a great deal of humor, substance, and a cast who really knows how to share the experience with their audience and include them in everything that happens. Their standing ovation at the end was absolutely deserved.

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