Counting on this troupe's Bard
Related story: 'Twelfth Night' -
Elizabethans at home and Abroad
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2000 -- (AMHERST) - Straightaway, here's a dozen ways the Hampshire Shakespeare Company mints durable ducats of summer entertainment value in "Twelfth Night."
1. The invincibly rotund James MacRostie plays his Sir Toby Belch like a Yule log thrown on a fire of lusty living. Though this Shakespeare comedy runs well over two hours, and some nights in the sobering air of the garden at the Lord Jeffery Inn, he uses tankards of stage grog like an IV drip, guaranteeing wobbly knees, a snorting indignation and a great expression of slack-jawed, round-mouthed awe at the madness around him.
Tired of people tut-tutting the pleasures of alcohol? MacRostie's no cautionary tale, he's roadkill.
2. Identities lost, tossed and found. Daft enough to think the makers of "M:i-2" know it all about identity swaps? It was Shakespeare who reveled in disguise and in words that ring truer when the ping around a cage of deception. Just for starters, "Twelfth Night" gives us a female actor playing a man (Marina Goldman), complete with super-sized codpiece. But as the story unfolds, the lovely Sharon Horowitz, playing Viola, decides to disguise herself as a eunuch to become a page to a duke. Soon, it's an equally lovely countess who wants to take this page from the duke's playbook.
3. The company gets us through countless plot twists, once again, with a full and readable synopsis. Read it twice and keep it open in your lap as a map. Circle names. Draw arrows. There is pleasure in letting Shakespeare be a multimedia experience.
4. If the stomach rumbles, a snack's not far off. When the show is performed at the inn, its staff offers an outside buffet before and during the performance. And since it's mentioned in the play, one dish available is pickled herring. Vegetarians in the audiences will enjoy a line about what beef does to the brain.
5. It lasts only minutes, but the payoff for the younger set that's always a part of this company's audience is a rousing bit of swordplay, first inexpertly, as Viola is coaxed to hold her own in a duel, while holding a blade for perhaps the first time, then with vigor, when a seasoned fighter happens upon the clash. Last year, two well-trained actors slipped up in a fight on stage at Look Park and one was injured. The dance of long daggers is choreographed with a grace that highlights the danger.
6. Walter Carroll takes a toady's role, as Malvolio, a steward to the countess Olivia, and goes over the top with it as a plot is hatched against him by a quartet of pranksters. He shows what a man looks like when smothering in self-indulgence, as he whips a fantasy about his lady's supposed infatuation with him. "I thank my stars I am happy," he says with unblinking self-delusion. Then he ratchets the performance up a notch, when he sees her in the flesh, bobbing and grinning like a mad marionette whose strings - particularly the legs - are being pulled mercilessly.
7. The oldest profession - to me, it's when people profess love - gets a good airing, especially from love-sick Orsino, played by Justin McClintock, who sounds to be nearly gagging on his unrequited ardor. We get to listen in to a man tell a woman (in disguise) about the nature of women. If it wasn't so off the mark, so comic, you'd feel the temperatures rise of women in the audience.
8. For all the rush and play of words, the company again makes the most of physical comedy. Infatuated with the duke she's supposed to be helping woo the countess, Horowitz, as Viola/Cesario, milks a moment in which she's drawn ever closer to Orsino's face, like a moth in slow motion to a lamp. Two attendants help reflect and intensify the moment, as they look on perplexed.
9. In a season of vacations and travel, the play offers the great diversion of breaking bonds of time. We hear words written centuries before that seem coinages for tomorrow. Or they hark back, as in Sir Toby's reference to something that's been there "since before Noah was a sailor." He's intemperate, but not uninformed.
10. Two leading women get to render the most dramatic searches for love, in the arbors of Illyria. When someone strokes her cheek and wonders about the missing beard, Olivia, dressed as the page Cesario, longs for a man's touch. "I'm almost sick for one," she says in response to the comment about her absent whiskers. "But I'd not have it grow on my chin."
11. We laugh at the foibles of men, mainly, and sympathize with women - but get a hearty send-up of all mankind. This is a comedy that lampoons without prejudice. When the pranksters lay a bit of bait for Malvolio, one says, "Observe him, for the love of mockery ... for here comes the trout."
12. Once again, this troupe's cohesion lifts everyone's work. In addition to those named already, players like Laura McDonnell, Marck Morrison, Jim Brower, Rob Olmstead and Steve Angel each help make "Twelfth Night" way more than a baker's dozen of delights.
The Hampshire Shakespeare Company production continues through July 9 on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the garden of the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the meadow outside The Hartsbrook School at 193 Bay Road in Hadley.
The director is Ellen W. Kaplan and stage manager is Matthew Daube. Costumes are by Sarah Strong. The set was designed by Timothy Holcomb, with music direction by Ann Maggs and music by Ijod Schroeder. Choreography is by Nona Monahin, with fights directed by Jeff Lord.
The cast includes Justin McClintock, S. Ann Hall, Bridget Connor, Sharon Horowitz, Matthew Daube, Kelly Powers, Laura McDonnell, James MacRostie, Marina Goldman, Marck Morrison, Walter Carroll, Rob Olmstead, Steve Angel, and Jim Brower.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors and $6 for those under 18. Tickets are available at the door or at Atticus Books in Amherst of Beyond Words Bookshop in Northampton. For information, call 548-8118 or visit the HSC Web site at www.hampshire shakespeare.org.