By William Shakespeare
Directed by Brandon Walker
Featuring Brandon Walker, Anna Marie Sell, David Sedgwick, Lindsay Teed
The Seeing Place @ ATA Sargent Theater, 314 West 54th Street 4th floor
March 30, 2011 — April 16, 2011
production web site: http://www.seeingplacetheater.com/season.html
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 2, 2011
Part of the challenge of this production is perfectly captured in the poster art. That leg sporting a fluorescent yellow stocking is indeed that of Malvolio (Brandon Walker) who pines for Olivia (Anna Marie Sell) who loves the long-lost brother Sebastian (Ben Leasure) of poster-depicted Viola (Lindsay Teed), in drag as Cesario to survive after the shipwreck that brings the twin brother and sister to Illyria, and separates them until the end of the play, strangers in strange land. The gender flips in the poster image, while making for layered contemporary film culture referential fun, do not help us to reach the core of the story. (And a sound design that ranges from Sinatra to more contemporary singers, competing costume aesthetics adds to this era-less setting.) In this poster image, the use of a stocking-clad minor character in the foreground overwhelming one of the major characters in the background reveals something of the lack of balance in the production’s interpretation. The yellow stocking moment occurs later in the play and is directed toward Olivia not Viola/Cesario. The visual reference/pun in the poster art to The Graduate makes no thematic sense in relation to the play or this production.
Director Brandon Walker (yes the same actor sporting the yellow stocking) says in his playbill note: “We’re trying to tell William Shakespeare‘s story from twelve unique viewpoints. We have filtered these roles through ourselves and added our own personal stamps. Very little is set in stone. We rediscover the story every day.” This could be lovely and fruitful as an ensemble exercise — see Louis Malle‘s 1994 Vanya on 42nd Street for example, a filmed culmination of a group of actors rehearsing Uncle Vanya for a few years, filmed in the New Amsterdam Theatre several years prior to its renovation by the Disney Corporation. That exercise in an ensemble finding its way into a piece has not been achieved here.
In this production the directorial stance is for each character to have his or her head, to take his or her time (sometimes relentlessly so) to speak their piece, but without an overall shaping hand, a directorial vision, a concept. Yes, the twins find each other, the ruses are revealed, the estate residents and familiars have too much to drink too often. But by allowing each character and actor an equal weight on the stage, and having them all deliver their speeches in a similar rhythm at a plodding pace, the production is challenged. The end result is a long evening of individual actor exercises, stage moments (some of them quite lovely), that unfortunately don’t add up to a satisfactory romp or a coherent comedic tale.
© Martha Wade Steketee (April 3, 2011)