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Studio Theatre, National Arts Center, Ottawa, ON. Tuesday, December 11 through Monday, December 31, 2001.
Marti Maraden, the Artistic Director of the English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, made a good choice with TWELFTH NIGHT for the holiday season. As she puts it in her program notes, it's a play with an enormous sense of fun and celebration as well as profound tenderness.
Set in the 1880s during the holiday season, the production has a bit of the look of Dickens, but it never seems to settle firmly into a specific time or place. Marc Desormeaux has added a bit to the confusion by mixing traditional English carols with his always lovely and appropriate music. The opening picture with Dimitrije Stanisic-Keller playing a haunting melody on the violin while Orsino listens is stunning.
I've always admired John Pennoyer's work, and many of his costumes are as striking as ever. Olivia's overly elaborate gowns and Orsino's sweeping dressing gown speak volumes about the self-importance of the characters. There's also a very nice exhibit of Mr. Pennoyer's designs and sketches in the lobby.
Speaking of the costumes, there were two young boys sitting next to me, and I heard one say to the other, "There's Pennoyer." This was a dead giveaway, so at intermission I asked the younger of the two if he had a friend in the play. He said, "My Dad - he's Malvolio." He was justifiably proud, as John Koensgen did a wonderful job, especially with the letter scene. There's a lot more to this Malvolio than a pompous fool, and at times he's actually quite touching in his wondering joy in the letter.
Jennifer Gould makes a lovely Viola. She's adept at handling the language, is very believable, and has a nice comic flair. Her response to the command, "Put up your swords!" went almost unnoticed, but gave me the giggles. Paul Rainville is an excellent Sir Toby Belch, as is David McMullen in the roles of the Captain and the Priest, but please - someone fix the Priest's beard!
Kate Hurman as Maria doesn't seem to listen to the other actors. When she does respond, it appears artificial and forced. On the other hand, Julian Doucet as Curio and Michael Mancini as Valentine are right on target with their reactions - I wanted to see more.
Maureen Smith as Olivia and Graeme Somerville as Orsino are both fine in the roles. I've always felt that with their over-emotional love of being in love, they deserve each other instead of participating in a happy ending with their respective twins.
Happy is the word for the casting of Patrick McManus as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He was wonderful as the Interpreter in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, and is both very funny and very appealing as Sir Andrew. He tries so hard and just can't seem to get it together. The flopping wig is a perfect touch. On opening night he jammed his sword into the scabbard and it stuck halfway. He had to play the rest of the scene with it sticking up about eighteen inches. I hope he left the bit in, as it was truly hilarious.
Director Maraden's staging moves swiftly and smoothly. She takes full advantage of the semi-thrust stage and the flexibility of the set.
All in all, TWELFTH
NIGHT is a lively and entertaining play, and a pretty good excuse for a holiday
trip to Ottawa. On a scale of one to five, the National Arts Centre's production
of TWELFTH NIGHT gets four and a quarter Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For
North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.