Review by Peter Hall
THE BASICS: This second production of Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s (SIDP) 40th summer casts men in female roles (as it was done in Shakespeare’s Day) and continues to offer performances every night except Monday at 7:30 through August 16 at “Shakespeare Hill” (near the Delaware Park Rose Garden and Casino). Bring your own blanket or lawn chair, some refreshments are available, sufficient porta-potties. Run time over two hours including one 20 minute intermission during which the actors “pass the hat” for voluntary donations.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: With mistaken identities, plenty of sexual double entendre, a group of fools and drunks, and a pair of star-crossed lovers, TWELFTH NIGHT has many of Shakespeare’s favorite devices. It features a twin brother and sister (Sebastian and Viola) who wash up on the shores of Illyria (don’t ask), each thinking the other dead. For safety, Viola dresses as a man, but soon falls for Duke Orsino. Orsino meanwhile is in love with Olivia, and sends Viola (as “Cesario”) to woo her for him. Of course, Olivia falls for Viola (as “Cesario”). It’s a sticky mess until Sebastian is finally identified and breaks the log jam.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Ably directed by Steve Vaughan, who said that he is not making any statement with an all-male cast, he’s just trying something new for SIDP’s 40th season, the jokes are (fairly) easy to get and the action is fairly easy to follow.
This is truly an ensemble performance, and all the roles are well inhabited by a cadre of Buffalo acting favorites. Of course, certain roles are “lead” roles and are more easily appreciated. Also, the convincing acting of the three principle “women” and their ability to stay in character for over two hours earned the loudest applause for Jordan Louis Fischer as Viola/Cesario, Tim Newell as Olivia, and Adam Yellen as Maria (Olivia’s maid).
Shakespeare, no doubt writing for “his” audience, loved to celebrate drunkenness, revelry, and practical jokes. To this end, the unholy trio of Sir Toby Belch (played by Norman Sham), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (David Lundy) and Feste, the fool, played by Stephen Wisker do a very fine job. The difficulty in these roles is making the rapid fire puns and plays on words accessible to 21st century audiences, almost 500 years after Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote them. I often make this analogy: 500 years from now, will audiences “get” Robin Williams? Perhaps you can see the problem. But if the actors and director are skilled, it works pretty well.
If the final days of ROMEO AND JULIET (SIDP’s earlier production) are any indication it will get very crowded on the hill next weekend (August 14, 15, and 16) so you might want to take in this production sooner rather than later. However, since a big part of the experience is people watching, that’s up to you. But what is not optional is missing this wonderful Buffalo tradition.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!