- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

Most productions of "Twelfth Night" leave contemporary audiences feeling somewhat detached. We watch the revelry on stage and understand that it is supposed to represent fun. But watching it, we don't really have much fun.
Not so in Aaron Posner's tune-filled, fresh and sexy new staging. Here, we get the jokes, and we like the music. As a result, instead of passively registering the fun on stage, we share in it.
Shakespeare's often-melancholy comedy about mistaken identity, misplaced ardor and mischief, "Twelfth Night" takes its name from the final night of Christmas festivities, the Feast of the Epiphany. Celebrated in the Elizabethan era as a festival of misrule, this holiday of music, revels and pranks saturates Shakespeare's play.
The production has all the ingredients of a successful soiree good sounds (an original score from playwright and musician Craig Wright, whose play "Recent Tragic Events" provoked audiences at Woolly Mammoth this fall); witty conversationalists, an open bar, lots of eye candy and a target-rich environment for flirting and maybe even falling in love.
And it all starts with a shipwreck.
"Twelfth Night" centers on Viola (Holly Twyford), who finds herself in Illyria after a storm that she believes claimed her brother, Sebastian (Geoffrey Sobelle). Viola disguises herself as a lad, re-christens herself Caesario and goes to serve the Count Orsino, who finds the lad curiously alluring. Once in his favor, Viola is dispatched to the court of Olivia (Kate Eastwood Norris), the "cruel beauty," to help Orsino win Olivia's hand not so easily won, belonging as it does to a cruel and hyperselective beauty. Not only does she spurn Orsino (a man of such delicate sensibilities that he bursts into sobs every time he hears a love song), but she also disdains her other suitors: the petty bureaucrat Malvolio (Rick Foucheux) and the blockhead Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Sugg).
But Viola/Caesario is another matter. Olivia finds her icy facade melting when in the company of this young, er, man. With Orsino also oddly attracted, it looks like a particularly thorny episode of "Will and Grace" until Sebastian shows up, briefly throwing a monkey wrench into the works, and all is eventually made clear.
Observing the various romantic entanglements are Feste (Sarah Marshall), a slightly rueful clown, Sir Toby Belch (David Marks), a boozy good-timer and Maria (Dori Legg), Olivia's boisterous lady-in-waiting, who has designs on Sir Toby.
Love makes fools of us all, and few look more foolish than these various characters as they either waste precious energy coveting the wrong person while the right one is under their noses, or ignore love altogether.
The delightful music, under the direction of cast member James Sugg, is the show's big surprise. Feste serves as a sort of narrator, and Miss Marshall's singing, tinged with sadness even on the up-tempo songs, acts as a touchstone for the revels. The other songs ranging from soft rock to indie-pop and raucous punk sounds weave in and out. It's not unlike Jonathan Richman's quirky musical commentary on the action in "There's Something About Mary."
The enthusiasm of the cast is contagious. As Viola, Miss Twyford adds another triumph to an already exemplary year. Smart without egotism, passionate and tender, she conveys amazement at what her change of gender has wrought. Mr. Peakes, although fine as Orsino, doesn't always hold his own opposite Miss Twyford, while Miss Norris as the imperious Olivia and Miss Legg as the fiery, mischievous Maria fare somewhat better.
The standout performance, however, belongs to Mr. Foucheux as Malvolio, a taciturn creature brought low by love when he is tricked into believing Olivia loves him. Mr. Foucheux's body language is hysterical, whether he is conducting a prissy little picnic of boiled eggs or impersonating a videotape on rewind.
Purists will blanch at the license taken with Shakespeare's text, but if you are looking for a fresh and intoxicating interpretation of "Twelfth Night," look no further than the Folger.


****
WHAT: "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare
WHERE: Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 9.
TICKETS: $46-$26,
PHONE: 202/544-7077
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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