review: twelfth night

3 comments

Twelfth Night

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)

3 comments on “review: twelfth night”

  1. Hi, Martha:

    Thank you so much for coming. I’m sorry it wasn’t a more enjoyable night at the theater for you. I’d be interested, as a reader, to hear about what you thought of the other 13 artists (11 actors and 2 designers) that gave their time and energy to this production. It hardly seems fair to disregard them because of my direction or publicity for Twelfth Night.

    Best,

    Brandon Walker

  2. Brandon: thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog entry.

    I did suggest that there were many moments of charm and interest in the piece. From the end of my review: “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.” I was rather terse (relatively, for me anyway) in my comments about individual performances as I grappled with the overall effect of the evening. But sure, I’ll add some additional comments.

    The sound design and original music by Steve Przybylski is fun at many moments (I recall Sinatra, as I noted above, and some great jazzy house music and inter-scenic sequences.) I couldn’t figure out how it fit with the overall design however and as a setting for the characters. I could have been dense of course — but are we intended to be in a 1940s Illyria?

    Anna Marie Sell as Olivia is compelling … I recall her fine outing in your prior production of “Look Back in Anger”. She is a riveting presence on stage.

    Nathan Ramos as Andrew Aguecheek is compact fun. I didn’t follow the Altoid moments that occurred several times for his character … again, what time period are we in? Yet he is a charming presence also.

    The gentleman who plays the singing performing servant (excuse me for not having the character name at hand, so I’m hampered in locating the actor’s name) has a wonderful voice.

    There are other moments, to be sure, and performances to highlight. I do stand behind my general observation that the pacing and framing of these performances, as an overall evening, didn’t work very well for me. As a whole.

    I had no intention of disregarding any of the many individuals clearly working hard to make this production happen. My comments were meant seriously, and I respect all of your efforts.

  3. Hi, Martha:

    Thanks for adding those thoughts. I appreciate your time and care. As far as the time period goes, there are some characters that are stuck in the past – which we have attended to musically. But the costume and set designs don’t seem to suggest anything other than the present day. Either way, I’ll take your thoughts into consideration for the future.

    Best,

    Brandon Walker

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