Location: Delacorte Theater,
Website: Shakespeare in the Park official site
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Raúl Esparza, Audra McDonald, Julie White, Jay O. Sanders, Hamish Linklater, David Pittu, Michael Cumpsty
My Review: The Public Theater kicks off its annual Shakespeare in the Park celebration with one of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night. Before attending, my knowledge of this play was limited—a shipwreck, cross-dressing, and many comical errors were all I knew of it—so I was thrilled to be lucky enough to score a pair of tickets through the Public’s virtual line. Especially after spending the better part of last summer trying to get tickets to the production of Hair, but alas to no avail.
As with most of Shakespeare’s works, trying to summarize Twelfth Night in a few sentences is no easy task. Viola washes up on the shores of the pastoral
Anne Hathaway leads the Shakespeare in the Park cast as Viola/Cesario, and while she is primarily known as a movie actress, she certainly holds her own here (and she must feel the pressure to do so since she shares the same name as Shakespeare’s wife). She actually studied stage acting as a child at the PaperMill Playhouse in
While Viola, Orsino, and Olivia are commonly acknowledged as the primary parts in Twelfth Night, the bulk of the play belongs to the clowns. Jay O. Sanders plays Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch, with all the gusto and bravado you would expect from a truly stupid fat man, which is exactly what Toby Belch is. His constant, and just as stupid, shadow is Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Hamish Linklater as a hilariously fey and cowardly man. Rounding out the trio of mischief makers is Olivia’s maid Maria, played by Julie White, who is no stranger to handling roles of women with a mean streak and a biting tongue. As Malvolio, the steward who falls victim to the tricks of these three, Michael Cumpsty is probably the most accomplished Shakespearean actor in the entire cast, easily making Malvolio both pompous and comically tragic. Rounding out the cast is an ensemble of musicians, led by the cruelly blunt fool Feste, who provide a soundtrack of Irish/Scottish minstrel music throughout the play, creating a perfect Shakespeare evening under the stars.
While this performance of Twelfth Night is well-performed and highly enjoyable, it’s not without its problems, though I’m not sure if that’s the fault of this production or of the Bard himself. Certain scenes lag as they continue to play long after the audience has already figured out what is going on, which makes me wish they hadn’t chosen to adhere so faithfully to Shakespeare’s script. There’s also the Malvolio storyline, in which he winds up falsely imprisoned due to the scheming of Toby, Andrew, and Maria. Once all is revealed, he is left a broken and humiliated man, but it’s all treated as, “Oh well, our prank was all in good fun. This is a comedy after all!” But Malvolio’s humiliation isn’t meant to detract from everyone else’s happily ever after, which they celebrate in spades as the production closes with a joyful song and dance, and love reigns supreme in the end, just as Shakespeare intended it.
Bottom Line: While Shakespeare in the Park is free to attend, getting tickets can be a hassle, unless you relish camping out in
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