Shakespeare in Nantucket

Farce: The Bard's "Twelfth Night," in a contemporary island setting, is an appropriate choice for summer theater under the stars in Annapolis.


July 05, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre typically slots a Shakespearean comedy for July, the central month of its calendar. This season, the play is Shakespeare's highly accessible romantic comedy Twelfth Night, a tale of mistaken identity and gender-crossing that director Anne Rottenborn has set in contemporary Nantucket.

The time and place adapt well to the "theatre under the stars" in Annapolis that might have more aptly been called "theater amid the din" on a preholiday weekend at the downtown Annapolis City Dock. Here the actors sometimes competed with the sounds of revving motorcycle engines, a screaming siren from a passing emergency vehicle and whirring of helicopter blades.

Still, the sounds of modern life seemed less obtrusive to a Shakespearean cast in modern dress appearing before the exterior of a white Nantucket cottage trimmed in soothing lavender that easily could have rested on Spa Creek.

The plot of Twelfth Night tells of a shipwreck where Viola is saved by the ship's captain, Antonio, but fears that her twin brother Sebastian - who traveled with her - has been lost at sea. To survive on this strange island, Viola assumes the identity of "Cesario," a young man in Duke Orsino's court. Orsino accepts Cesario as his aide, sending him to Countess Olivia, the object of his unrequited love, who is in mourning for her brother. Still Olivia is not too grief-stricken to notice how attractive the young Cesario is.

Olivia lives with her hard-drinking uncle Sir Toby Belch in her palatial home, where she is served by her maid, Maria, and the foppish house steward, Malvolio. Olivia is pursued by another fop - Toby's rich friend, Sir Andrew Aguechek. Instances of unrequited love multiply as we discover that Viola loves Duke Orsino, who loves Olivia, who in turn loves "Cesario." Olivia is sluggishly pursued by Andrew and actively pursued by Malvolio after he is tricked into believing Olivia loves him.

Feste the jester observes from above all of the shifting scenes of romance, manifestations of mourning, gender-bending and overcoming of obstacles to true love. As if often the case in Shakespeare, the fool is the only character who clearly sees the truth.

In Summer Garden's production, Feste is played by a Leslie Dunner, more usually seen conducting the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. In his acting debut at the Garden, Dunner reveals a commanding stage presence, a delicious sense of fun, a dancer's grace and, of course, a musician's infallible sense of timing. Dunner also adds to the production with his composing skills, revealed in a quartet of tunes, and his abilities to play and sing all dozen tunes. However, opening-night microphone difficulties had Dunner's voice fading in and out at times.

If any actor was completely at home with the Bard, it was Hayley Clark in the dual roles of Viola and Cesario. Clark plays each role so flawlessly that it is hard to remember what a difficult task she has. Notable were her body language for both genders, her pleasing voice and exquisite diction that flows seemingly without effort.

Jon Christie does more than a credible job as her twin brother. Maud Gleason brought a fire and sophistication, along with a warm sensuality, to the role of Olivia, bolstering our understanding of what made this countess so beguiling.

As the love-struck Orsino, Daniel Lavanga fully conveys his feelings for Cesario/Viola as if struck by a thunderbolt.

Some high comic moments were provided by Sean Brown (Toby Belch), in ensemble with Daniel Hackler-Sullivan (Sir Andrew) and Lauren Kirby (the saucy maid Maria). Also providing high comedy is Barry Genderson, who is wonderfully pompous and foppish as Olivia's employee Malvolio.

Each supporting character deserves mention for roles well-played and for displaying concentration amid all of the city sounds. These players include Greg Ealick as the Captain, Michael Feldsher as Curio, Bryant Centofanti as Valentine, Michael Rogers as Antonio and Larry Richman as an officer.

Twelfth Night continues Thursday through Sunday evenings through July 17. Performances start at 8:30 p.m. and tickets may be reserved by calling 410-268-9212.

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