‘Twelfth Night’ Presented by Shakespeare Festival in Central Park
NEW YORK (AP) _ A production of ″Twelfth Night″ without any romance is less than half a play. It’s a series of comic interludes interrupted by a quartet of would-be lovers who aren’t much fun.
That’s what has happened at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park where, through July 20, the New York Shakespeare Festival is presenting a less than idyllic revival of the usually bewitching comedy.
There’s little spark and less interaction between the four lovers, characters who are supposed to dazzle each other and the audience as well. In the park, they don’t seem to be in the same play.
Thomas Gibson fares best as the moon-struck Orsino pining for Olivia while, at the same time, being distracted and eventually snared by Viola. His earnestness grows wearisome by the time the curtain falls but at least it gives him a bit of a personality.
It’s not clear why he would be attracted to Kim Griest’s Viola, a pale copy of the forthright and spirited young lady Shakespeare has created. And when Griest dresses up as Orsino’s manservant, Cesario, she’s equally unappealing.
Also disappointing is Kathleen Layman as Olivia, who falls for Viola’s twin brother Sebastian. She races through her speeches in a sing-song voice, more determined to finish them than shed any light on the text. The opposite is true of Perry Lang, a poker-faced Sebastian who affects an inexplicable blue- collar accent that slows down the action.
When the lovers are off-stage, the play finally comes to life. Chief among the resusitators are Tony Azito, as the loose-limbed clown Feste; Peter MacNicol as a childlike and hilarious Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Meagen Fay as the saucy and impertinent maid, Maria, and F. Murray Abraham as a Malvolio more petulant and prissy than villainous.
Azito has a commanding physical presence and a strong singing voice. He also gets the lion’s share of the songs, which have music by Rupert Holmes, composer of this year’s Tony award-winning musical ″The Mystery of Edwin Drood.″
Director Wilford Leach seems to have concentrated all his attention on the comedy, with a great deal of care paid to every pratfall and double take.
There’s some inspired swordplay devised by expert fight diector B.H. Barry, especially in one scene that has MacNicol swooping around the stage and crying like a wounded sparrow.
Bob Shaw’s all-purpose turntable set quickly becomes a garden or an inn or a living room. The unattractive costumes by Lindsay W. Davis are so eclectic that at times it seems that the play is set in a Persian harem or an Alpine village. That diffuseness is symptomatic of the production as a whole. Only when Leach is looking for laughs is he on sure ground. What he can’t find in the play is love.
Clive Barnes, in the New York Post, says: ″What is made much of is the play’s farcical element, and not a chance is missed for an easy laugh or a contrived gag.
″Now, Shakespeare himself was all for ‘cakes and ale,’ but the cakes were well-baked and the ale well-brewed. Here the humor is half-baked and sour.″
Don Nelson says in the Daily News that the director has allowed some of his lead actors to get away with murder.
″The touble is that ‘Night’ is not a tragedy. It’s a comedy, yet it is played so campily that it is killed by a terminal case of the cutes.″
In The New York Times, Mel Gussow says that almost everything has gone awry in the production.
″It is not a question of liberties taken but of abandonment of the play’s essential nature as one of the most irresistible of Shakespeare’s comedies.″