Review: Twelfth Night by Present Company Theatre
by Michael Meigs
Fun, family-friendly, free and right downtown where all the cool kids shop -- can this be Shakespeare?
The clever theatre folk of Present Company have been here before, and this cheerful picnic-style produiction of the comedy Twelfth Night on the easily accessed rooftop terrace of the Whole Foods flagship store at 5th & Lamar in Austin is just as accomplished as their 2014 Much Ado About Nothin and their 2015 Love's Labor's Lost in the same location
Austin theatre fans will recognize many in the cast. This Twelfth Night has lots of bounce and audience interaction, but it's firmly grounded in acting technique and knowledge of Shakespeare's language, verse and characters. Judd Farris as Duke Orsino, ruler and charismatic love object, has appeared with almost every signifiant theatre group in town in roles including Brutus, Edgar in King Lear, Touchstone the clown and Petruccio. Kevin Moxley as the preening Malvolio is in his third Shakespeare production so far this year, for he had a leading role as King Leontes in Somethiing for Nothing's The Winter's Tale and as villain Sebastian in Sky Candy's The Tempest. Teatro Vivo regular Mateo Barrera appeared in both of the company's previous rooftop Shakespeare productions. Omid Ghorashi was Horatio in City Theatre's Hamlet and Prospero for this company's production of The Tempest at Rain Lily Farm. The company's Feste the jester and leader of the exuberant four-member band 'The Rudesbees' is Michael Ferstenfeld, the theatre and improv comic whose performance as the Baker in Into The Woods has just been nominated for the B. Iden Payne award for outstanding actor in a musical.
And the list goes on. These are among the best devotees of Shakespeare in the city, the ones we are wont to take delight in.
Twelfth Night was a fine choice for this setting and these audiences. A tale of grown twins, male and female, lost in a shipwreck and cast up for adventures on the foreign shore of mythical Ilyria, it's all about L-O-V-E, courting and disguises. Viola the female twin (Amelia Turner) masquerades as an eunuch and finds employment with Duke Orsino, whom she adores; Orsino sends the supposed eunuch as emissary to plead his love to the fair Olivia (Rene Fulton), who falls in love with the emissary; the rascally Sir Toby Belch (Ghorashi) and carousing friends fool Malvolio (Moxley) into believing that the fair Olivia really has the hots for him, her household steward. For the uninitiated this may sound complicated, but it all plays out with great clarity and joy before an audience on benches, blankets and folding chairs under the Austin sky.
Key members of the cast provide a lively scripted pre-show just as the 7 p.m. shadows are lengthening. They establish the mood for the evening, offer visual and musical entertainment, and talk about Shakespeare's language. As proof both of its complexity and clarity, they interpret a famous but obscure piece, Mercutio's 'Queen Mab' speech from Romeo and Juliet. Farris declaims the ornately derisive lines and Kriston Woodreaux provides whimsical sequential interpretation.
Director Joseph Garlock, who played the lead in Present Company's Hamlet earlier this year, reoriented the playing spaces up there to achieve greater immediacy and intimacy for the comedy. Previous year's productions used the entirety of the northern side of the terrace, moving across a wide and very deep 180 degrees of space, while this one takes place largely on stage of risers at the eastern edge of the roofed area of the terrace. Most of the action occurs in somewhat less than 90 degrees of audience attention. It's supplemented by capering through the audience space and use of the edifices of the nearbty children's playgrtound as the jail to confine the fooled and allegedly mad Malvolio.
Lighting is rudimentary but adequate, and most costumes suggest a rousing night on the town. Malvolio's apparition cross-gartered and in yellow tights is a comic spectacle that might have been designed by Lululemon.
At a time when Austin arts organizations are struggling for space and facing venue closures, Present Company's arrangement with sponsor Whole Foods is a win-win-win situation. The theatre makers have a space with some minor challenges but great possibilities; Whole Foods adds arts zip to its already hip corporate persona; audiences benefit from the free parking and from Present Company's firm declaration that art should be free for all (joined with a polite request to donate and to pay it forward for those who cannot).
Those factors -- and the fun of an evening with these players and this comedy -- merit a four-fold 'hip-hip-hooray' for this Twelfth Night.
September 09 - October 02, 2016
525 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX, 78703
Promoting the philosophy of Accessible Art, SHAKESPEARE AT THE MARKET is FREE. A suggested $20 donation (for guests who are able) supports the artists and event.
Roof Terrace at Whole Foods Market, 5th-6th Sts and Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX
Poster design by Sarah Presson of Eye Like Design. (Look closely for Easter eggs!)