Burning Coal Theatre
Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School
Through Dec. 21
William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night famously opens with the glorious line, "If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it." Burning Coal Theatre's new production of this boisterous love comedy is well-filled with music, but not to excess: Our appetite for it does not "sicken, and so die." Instead, it increases each time the witty vaudevillian clown Feste appears, a gorgeous song on "his" sassy lips. Our desire is never surfeited during the too-brief two hours vouchsafed us in the Illyria defined by Morag Charlton's transparent scenic design and large paintings.
The play tells the stories of several loves, but the trials and triumphs of the lovers, would-be lovers and separated siblings take second place under Rebecca Holderness' zestful direction to the clowning and "low" comedy of Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Or maybe these three wise men—played by Yolanda Rabun, David Dossey and Stephen LeTrent—simply steal the show by taking Shakespeare's advice: "Those that are fools, let them use their talents." Aided and abetted by Joan J, in high form as Maria, maid to the lady Olivia, and Ian Finley as the deluded steward Malvolio, this preposterous posse frolics through the play's ridiculous antics and double-edged language with such fine elocution and high good humor that we are left thinking that perhaps laughter is the true gift of the Magi.
But, as suits a play written for the night of the Epiphany (Jan. 6, the traditional 12th day of Christmas), there is plenty to think on concerning transformative love, revelation and rebirth, even if these ideas hardly take ecclesiastical form. The lady Viola (Ashlee Quinones), survivor of a shipwreck in which she believes her twin Sebastian (Lucius Robinson) to have perished, disguises herself as a man for safety, and becomes a servant to the Duke Orsino (C. Delton Streeter), with whom she promptly falls in love. Quinones, who is about as big as a minute, makes an impressive transformation from the bedraggled girl to the courtly young man, "Cesario," whom Orsino sends to plead his suit to the lady Olivia—who promptly falls in love with "him."
Olivia is played with considerable depth by the beautiful Jenn Suchanec, whose vocal skills are such that though "Cesario" may resist her, no one else possibly can. Certainly not Sebastian, who appears at Olivia's home and is taken by her for Cesario—and who, to her delight, at last succumbs enthusiastically to her charms. This is slightly confusing, because Quinones and Robinson do not actually favor, there being at least a foot difference in their heights, among other things, but hey, what's one more case of confused identity in this story? The tale hangs upon it. Without that, we wouldn't we get the priceless scenes in which Aguecheek, lusting after Olivia, fights Cesario and later is bafflingly bested by Sebastian. This last is particularly intriguing, because it shows us Lucius Robinson in an unaccustomed role as straight man, to (the usually dangerous) Stephen LeTrent as foolish fop Aguecheek.
Feste gets the final line: "We'll strive to please you every day." If the run of this Twelfth Night continues as it began, the cast will have succeeded in this pledge. Laugh on, Fool.