Greek dramatists are credited with inventing the archetype; Shakespeare is credited with inventing the human. Although the characters inhabiting his plays are readily identifiable--the buffoon, the lover, the villain, the clown--they are not stereotypes. Each is imbued with his or her own humanity (`I am a Jew,” says Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. ` . . . . If you prick us, do we not bleed?”). They are blessed, to a greater or lesser extent, with the gift of self-awareness and are as relevant today as they were four hundred years ago. His plots are ageless and endlessly adaptable, as he himself has now proved to be. For Shakespeare is a principle character in an entertaining murder-mystery series by Simon Hawke (of Greensboro). The titles of the books play on those of Shakespeare: A Mystery of Errors, The Slaying of the Shrew, etc., a device the playwright, with his love of word games, would surely have approved.
Twelfth Night, written about 1600 and updated in this production to 1940, is considered the last of Shakespeare's `light” comedies. In it we find echoes of earlier comedies: a shipwreck and confusion of twins (The Comedy of Errors), cross-dressing (The Two Gentlemen of Verona and As You Like It), male friendship (The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Much Ado About Nothing). The plot twists around a favorite device of Shakespeare: A loves B who loves C who loves A. In this case, Orsino (Chris Allison), loves Olivia (Lauren Fortuna), who falls in love with Viola (Michelle Ludwig), who (in disguise as a boy) is Orsino's messenger sent to woo Olivia, who in turn loves Orsino.
An hilarious subplot involves the antics of Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch (David Novak), his friend and dupe, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ron Bashford), who also seeks to woo Olivia, and Maria (Pat Snoyer), Olivia's gentlewoman, who has set her matrimonial eye on Sir Toby. The three of them connive to bring down the arrogant, pretentious Malvolio (Scott Treadway), Olivia's steward. In this endeavor they are ably assisted by Feste (Willie Repoley), Olivia's Fool. If it sounds confusing, just remember it's a Shakespeare comedy, where actions speak as loudly as words.
Setting the action in 1940, works, particularly in the use of music. For this is a play that provides a director with many musical opportunities, and director Flynn-McIver has taken full advantage of these opportunities, using jazz and songs from that era not only as background but to under-score the mood. But I question why Ms. Flynn-McIver has chosen to move the play to Hollywood of 1940. The characters say they are in Illyria, and the only on-stage reference to Hollywood is a poster of Olivia in a movie she supposedly starred in.
Viola (Michelle Ludwig) is the character who must carry the play, a job that she more than satisfies. Her onstage presence imbues the role with charm and warmth, requisite qualities if Viola is to seduce both Olivia and Orsino into falling in love with her, combined with an energy modulated to suit the tenor of the action. Outstanding comedic performances are turned in by David Novak (Sir Toby), Ron Bashford (Sir Andrew), and Maria (Pat Snoyer), both individually and ensemble. Each of their hilarious scenes was rewarded with well-deserved applause.
They, and the play, were ably supported by Willie Ripoley (Feste). Not only a talented actor, he is also an accomplished musician, opening and closing the show with song and providing musical accompaniment on the muted trumpet, banjo ukelele, and snare drums. Scott Treadway gave a wonderful performance as Malvolio, except for a tendency to garble his words. I put this down to the visible tension in his neck that was straining his voice. Chris Allison (Orsino) and Lauren Fortuna (Olivia) got off to a slow start. They did not seem comfortable at first. Ms Fortuna walked on the stage as though it were her first time in high heels. And in the opening scene, Mr. Allison plays an angry Orsino, instead of an Orsino pining away over love for Olivia, and the humor of the scene is lost. By the second half, both actors were more relaxed and comfortable, so let's hope their first-half performances were preview jitters.
In the minor roles of Antonio, rescuer and friend to Sebastian (Viola's brother), and Sebastian, Jess Wells and Michael Ackerman turned in accomplished performances with the little they were given to do. Jay Joslin and Erinn Nelson, in a variety of almost non-speaking roles, functioned mainly as scene-changers, at which they were appropriately unobtrusive.
Finally, there is the wonderful, multi-purpose set by the ever-inventive Ron Bowen. A water fountain, a bench (wooden-slatted on one side, cushioned on the other), and a backdrop of panels are moved around the stage to designate Orsino's palace, Olivia's mansion, and the town square. And Kelledy Francis's costumes looked as though they were taken directly from a 1940s movie.
With its production of Twelfth Night, the second season of the North Carolina Stage Company comes to a close. Director Flynn-McIver is to be commended for ending the season on a high note, bringing to life this entertaining play and giving the audience a laugh-filled, fun evening. I, for one, am already looking forward to the start of their third season.