I know most of my reading base in is Minnesota and very few will have an opportunity to see the play I am reviewing today, but I decided to write something up nonetheless. As I have talked about before on this blog, this blog is more about forcing me to grow as an artist and a critic. I thought this exercise would be a good one. I hope you stay and read it, because a lot of this blog will be questioning the relevance of Shakespeare instead of critiquing the performance.
Before we begin I thought it is important to put APT (American Players Theatre) into context for reader's not familiar with who they are and the impact they have had on my life. APT is one of Wisconsin art scene's crown jewel. For decades now they have been producing Broadway quality Shakespeare for southern Wisconsin (the theater is conveniently located halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago and 40 minutes outside of Madison).
Although this is a company that perfects the classical style, there is nothing traditionally about their stage space (well actually if I wanted to get very theater historical it is the MOST traditional theater). Their space is located in Spring Green, Wisconsin right in the middle of nowhere. The theater is completely outdoors in the beautiful woods.
The House (where the audience sits) is situated on a natural hill. Well it started out as wooden benches and grass today they are the best seats in the industry while also fully waterproofed. The house boasts approx. an 1100 seat audience, and it fills that pretty much all summer (Just to put things into context I saw 12th night on a Tuesday night with crappy weather and the threat of rain and there were still 750 people). The Stage itself is a thrust stage with a bridge that goes right out into the audience.
I have been going to this theater since I was a little boy. APT was incredibly monumental in my passion for Shakespeare, the arts, and fueled my own desire to perform onstage for the rest of my life. While in high school I attended three years of "Fine Arts Weekend," a program where high school students spend the weekend at APT, see three shows, workshop and party with the actors, and get a full tour of APT's facilities. I've learned a lot from APT over the years and I thought it was important to start this blog paying them some dues. If you love theater as much as I do I strongly recommend you make it out to Wisconsin someday and see one of their shows. Without further adieu lets review!(Dr. Seuss points scored!)
For those of you unfamiliar with this Shakespeare Play here is the skinny. So Viola and Sebastian, twin siblings, get shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria. They are separated and each presumes the other is dead. Viola having little money and no kingdom decides to dress as a man named Cesario. Cesario becomes counsel to the noblemen Orsino. Orsino is in love with Olvia, but she won't take his courting.
Viola get sent to court Olivia in Orsino's place. Olivia falls in love with Viola (who is still Cesario), but Viola really loves Orsino who thinks she is a man. these love quadtrangles really break down when Sebastian comes to Illyria and everyone thinks he is Cesario (Viola). Viola's cover is blown, Viola marries Orsino and Sebastian marries Olivia and everyone lives happily ever after. The end!
Sound a lot like many other Shakespeare plays? We will get to that but the review first:
What I liked:
- The costumes as always with APT were truly stunning. In my opinion APT's costumes are the closest to the extravagance and beauty they had in Shakespeare's time.
- Feste (John Taylor Phillips) was by far the funniest and most entertaining person to watch on stage. I found my eye wandering to his side work away from the focus of the space just because his reactions were priceless.
- Sir Toby (Brian Mani) was incredibly clever and had impeccable timing. Toby what the comics world would call a meddler (like Loki in The Avengers). Watching him scheme and watching his control unravel was a joy.
- Viola (Christina Panfilio) might deserve the rookie of the year award for APT's season. Her performance in this show keeps things fresh and keeps me engaged. Its great how she doesn't fall into too frequent gender cliches of cross dressing characters
- Malvolio (La Shawn Banks) might have stolen the show with an inspired physical performance and creative voice work.
- The musical interludes started to grind my gears after awhile. One or two? Fine. But with each act over an hour long as it is let's not drag this out.
- Orisino (Marcus Truschinski) might have been the blandest performance from Truschinski I have ever seen. I was blown away by Truschinski's Puck in APT's modernization of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Since then I have been an avid fan girl. This performance while competent, left me wanting so much more.
- The set was bland. Now I know APT might have been going for a more traditional Shakespearean style in regards to set and props, but it was nonetheless disappointing to say the least.
- The entire Sebastian subplot was hack work. Now most of this is probably the writing, but I want there to be greater purpose to Sebastion and Antonio. I never got a real sense of danger with Antonio being an outlaw. I never got a sense of wonder with Sebastian coming back from the dead.
- At over two hours this show draaaaaaaggged. I like to think If the whole cast has brought the energy that Mr. Banks did to Malvolio the show would have clipped along smoothly. With the increased tempo the jokes might have worked better.
- As clever as Shakespeare's writing is a lot of the jokes fall flat. I have been to APT shows of Shakespeare plays where I have hurt myself from laughing so hard. So the source material isn't the problem. I would attribute it to bad timing, and a lesser Shakespeare script.
I believe anytime a director starts the process of bringing a play to light they need to be able to answer the question: Why now? They need to communicate to the audience why this story, these themes, these characters needs to be showcased today. Theatre is current, on topic, and a current temperature reading for our society.
- Twin confusion
- Presumed death
- Characters plotting against nobles for entertainment
- And of coarse a brilliant Deus Ex Machine right at the end that results in:
- Meddlers getting punished
- All young couples paring up and getting married
- Families being reunited
- ect. ect. ect.
But because Shakespeare's name is on the script and he wrote Hamlet, Macbeth, and other masterworks that have definite the industry, Willie gets a pass. So I end this blog post with and question. Should all of Shakespeare's comedies be held in the same Pantheon as Hamlet or Macbeth? Or should we acknowledge that while he wrote masterworks, he like every other starving artist did work for the paychecks like everyone else.
Thanks you my loyal fans "We few we happy few!"