Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Richmond Shakespeare, Richmond, VA, 2007
Frank Creasy as <i>Sir Toby Belch</i> and David White as <i>Sir Andrew Aguecheek</i>

Frank Creasy as Sir Toby Belch and David White as Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Overview

This was my third time directing Twelfth Night. Artistic Director Grant Mudge threw down two especial challenges: stage the play using ‘original practices’ and with only five actors. Modeled on the Actors from the English Stage concept, Richmond Shakespeare annually stages several of their winter season productions with five actors, so that in addition to playing in their downtown performance space, the plays can also easily tour throughout the greater Richmond area. Original practices means universal lighting, on the audience as well as the actors; it means that the stage itself is the set; it means direct address; it means that every music or sound cue must be actor generated, not pre-recorded.

The particular challenges of this production

Daunting as it is to figure out the best character tracks for each actor in a situation like this, I was especially challenged by how best to stage the recognition scene between Viola and Sebastian. With only five actors, I was going to have the same actress play both brother and sister. How to achieve the magic of the reunion between them with only one actor? With this issue at the forefront of my thinking, and also concerned about how we would understand when an actor shifted from one character to another, I decided that we would populate the playing space with a pair of mannequins in addition to our five actors, and that we would use two garment racks to create our Illyria as well.

Viola and the Sea Captain were washed ashore through a garment rack; Feste (who has time for Fabian with only five actors?) and Sir Toby would hide behind one in the box tree scene; Malvolio would be trapped among the costumes for the dark house. Actors removed articles of clothing from one another as one scene ended and the next began, tossing them down or replacing them on the garment racks as the particular character might. One character would turn away, and another character would turn back to us. When the soldier guarding Antonio had to leave him so that she could become Olivia, she placed a mannequin by his side to watch him, leaving her baliff’s hat on the tailor’s dummy. When Sebastian arrived into the final scene, Feste, played by Andrew Hamm, wheeled a mannequin into place across from the identically-clad Viola (Liz Blake). I have always felt that Feste knows more than he lets on, so it made good sense to me that he would be the agent of ‘Sebastian’s’ arrival.

How will this fadge?

Fate served up a dramatic third challenge to this production: 72 hours before our first public performance, the actor playing the roles of Orsino, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio had to withdraw from the production. In David White, we found a stellar replacement. He and I rehearsed nearly around the clock for two days. We bound his script in black and on he went. Many in the audience thought it was Malvolio’s prayer missal and not the prop of an actor who’d only joined the company two days earlier!

Reviews

Richmond Times-Dispatch:
A hilarious, minimalist Twelfth Night

The approach is strongly physical while keeping a tight focus on language, and highly emotional with key musical accents. The cast and text are pared down, lighting and scenery and costume kept to a minimum. . . . Kathleen Powers brings us a Twelfth Night that is as funny and unruly as a Marx Brothers comedy.

Richmond.com:
Eating It Up

Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s performance of Twelfth Night is one of their best yet. Intermixing musical accompaniment with lively humor and minimal set design, the company got the whole crowd laughing throughout the entire performance. This is where I applaud . . . Through careful crafting of an entertaining cast and creative direction from Kathleen Powers, Richmond Shakespeare shows that a troupe can not only enjoy their experience on stage, but truly become the experience as well.

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