The story (synopsis omitted for reasons of space) pushes the envelope of the ancient mistaken-twin-love-story genre, on the premise that, since love is blind, lovers will also be blind to little differences - like gender - between identically dressed siblings.
If this production could be said to have been set in a "period," it would be Hugh Hefner's '60s, with a frenetic Orsino (Jonathan Grey) dressed as a bizarre playboy in boxer shorts and bathrobe, accompanied by a soundtrack of Italian movie music. But just as love springs eternal, so does this play, and period details merely served to underline the flakiness of some (most?) of the characters, including the martini-swilling, Phil Silvers-ish Toby Belch (Greg Stuhr) and nerdy Andrew Aguecheek (Martin Everall) and the self-indulgent, grief-stricken Olivia (Faye Jackson), while doing little damage to the text other than anachronizing a few details like "canary" (originally a sweet wine), "cross-gartering" (whatever it may have been originally, it didn't read as much at all here), and the "tabor" (which here became a saxophone; it could perhaps have been better updated as bongo drums), none of which translated well from the original.
Quibbles aside, the cast took the interpretation and ran with it, providing many amusing and touching moments among an understated and sympathetic Malvolio (John McDermott) Belch, Aguecheek, and Maria (Rochelle Stempel), with the stories of Viola (Lizzie Peet) and Sebastian (Patrick McCaffrey) woven in.
Toby and Sir Andrew provided quite enough clowning for a modern audience, without the Elizabethan wisecracks of Feste (Dennis Kyriakos), the official Fool, who seemed, through no fault of his own, to be redundant.
Among those required to speak verse, perhaps Viola, Olivia, and Antonia (Lou Kylis as a successfully gender-bent captain) showed the greatest ease. Whatever can be said about New York actors in particular and American actors in general, it is impossible to successfully pull off verse drama (no matter what the costume design) without breath control!
Director Pomerantz's prop-driven set transfigured Illyria from its humble beginnings as a black box, and Allen Hahn's subtle and complex lighting design hit all the right notes. Kaye Voyce's eclectic costumes successfully pulled off a difficult feat where many productions stumble and fall flat.
(Also featuring Michael McKinnon, Jeff Buckner, and D. L. Shroder, who also vetted the script and wrote the intelligent program notes.)
Copyright 1997 John Chatterton
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