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PSC's 'Twelfth Night' delights with energetic humor

Traditionally, the Twelfth Night of Christmas is a time for celebration and festivities. William Shakespeare wrote “Twelfth Night” solely as a comedy — unlike Shakespeare’s more serious plays, “Twelfth Night” simply wants its audience to have a good time. As director Malena de la Fuente ’16 noted, “the real value of ‘Twelfth Night’ is in its entertaining nature.” For their spring production, Princeton Shakespeare Company accomplishes this by putting on a thoroughly enjoyable show filled with practical jokes and merriment.

At the play’s core is a case of mistaken identity. Viola pretends to be the eunuch Cesario so that she can work for Duke Orsino, with whom she quickly falls in love. However, Orsino sends Cesario as a messenger to court Countess Olivia on his behalf, and hilarity ensues when Olivia falls in love with Cesario instead. The interactions between Olivia (Margaret Wright ’17) and Cesario/Viola (Katherine Clifton ’15) provide some of the funniest scenes in PSC’s “Twelfth Night,” such as when Wright scoots progressively closer to Clifton in an attempt at seduction, while the latter struggles to maintain distance between them.

Wright delicately conveys Olivia’s initially conflicted feelings about Cesario, whose appearance causes her to reconsider her rejection of all marital prospects after her brother’s death. Simultaneously sly and shy, Wright peeks out cautiously when she sees Clifton approach as she plots ways to make Cesario fall for her. The audience wants to root for Olivia, but also sympathizes with Cesario’s precarious position.

In a comedic subplot of “Twelfth Night,” some members of Olivia’s household play a cruel prank on her steward, the pompous Malvolio, portrayed by Sean Toland GS. Toland captures Malvolio’s pretentious nature through vivid facial cues, such as frowning and turning up his nose at the celebrations. The pranksters convince Malvolio to turn from his usual somber self into a completely laughable character by forging a love letter to him from Olivia, prompting him to dress in bright yellow stockings and garishly crossed suspenders. Toland, in this remarkable transformation, aptly demonstrates his comedic abilities.

Malvolio is not the only source of physical comedy in “Twelfth Night.” Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by T.J. Smith ’16, provides comic relief as an awkward and dimwitted associate of Sir Toby Belch (Samuel Gelman ’16). He demonstrates his fancy dancing skills by prancing clumsily across the stage. In another scene, when he must face Cesario in a sword duel, he feigns bravado, but once he takes his sword, Smith is hilariously nervous: His blade clatters against Cesario’s as he shakes uncontrollably with fear. Smith’s scenes with Gelman provide humor through both action and dialogue, such as when Sir Andrew notes that Sir Toby plays a fool “with a better grace, but I do it more natural.”

Before the play begins, Julia Peiperl ’17 and Luke Hamel ’16 play the guitar and sing songs for the audience. This serves to enhance the mood of the play as part of Christmas festivities, and audiences should plan to arrive early for this treat. Christmas lights strung around the columns in the theatre further add a metaphysical element to the performance’s atmosphere: The actors portray not only their characters, but also partakers of Twelfth Night celebrations. However, some aspects of this performance felt less rehearsed than others. For instance, during some scenes actors accidentally interrupted each other as if having forgotten when to speak their lines. These occasional lapses took away from the entire play’s effect.

PSC’s latest adaptation of “Twelfth Night” shines with its comedic gold. True to de la Fuente’s words, this production is “upbeat and exciting, even slightly absurd.” Those seeking an evening of fun and entertainment will not be disappointed.


4 out of 5 paws

Pros: Lives up to promise of comic entertainment.

Cons: Some scenes felt underprepared.

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