The Exciting, Risky Bedlam of “Twelfth Night” (5 Stars)
By Michele Markarian
‘Twelfth Night’ – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Eric Tucker. Presented by Bedlam, Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge through July 10.
I must confess that when it comes to performing the works of Shakespeare, I have always felt our British cousins were superior. The actors possess an ease with the language, a oneness with the material – well, Bedlam dispelled me of that preconception during their remarkable and risky performance of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s play of mistaken identity. Performed on essentially a bare set which allows the performers ample room to fill the space, Twelfth Night is two consecutive hours of non-stop hilarity and confusion. With just five actors performing all of the roles, the audience has to match the cast in terms of staying on their toes (a familiarity with the play is suggested, but not required).
Eric Tucker, who serves as the play’s director as well as Bedlam’s artistic director, takes on the roles of Viola and Sebastian, a pair of twins separated in a shipwreck. The nimble Susannah Millonzi doubles as the lady Olivia, who is startled from her grief over her brother’s death by an attraction to a man who calls himself Cesario – actually Viola in disguise – and the vulgar suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Orsinio (Kelley Curran, who also plays Olivia’s gentlewoman Maria) is in love with Olivia, and has sent Cesario to woo her on behalf of him. The presumptuous servant Malevolio (well played by Edmund Lewis) is also in love with Olivia, and is the victim of a prank by Maria and the staff of Olivia’s household. Tom O’Keefe plays a variety of smaller roles as well as Sebastian’s sea captain friend Antonio. All five cast performers are outstanding.
With the help of small props like hats and glasses, the actors are more than adept at differentiating themselves in each role. As the action progresses, the rapid switching of characters gets more frantic; actors toss the hats to one another that come across both daring and spontaneous. In one risqué moment the theater is dark, and what’s taking place in the action is left to the imagination. Cast members suddenly emerge behind a large desk, with flashlights and cardboard puppets, which add to the fun. Indeed, fun is what this show is all about, as Bedlam looks like they are all participating in a brave and wonderful adventure. Punctuating the show is the music, played and sung on guitar by Tom O’Keefe, sometimes joined by the cast, who all have gorgeous voices, notably Edmund Lewis.
This not a high-tech show. Flashlights are used, props are minimal, and costumes are basic. The creativity of Tucker’s vision is all about using what’s on hand, and that’s where the show is so ingenious. What You Will, which is running in repertory with Twelfth Night, allegedly – I haven’t seen it – offers a different, more stylized version of the same show; the cast actually play different roles than the ones they play in Twelfth Night. What could keep a show fresher than actors taking on different roles within a different production of the same play? Nothing, that’s what! But don’t take this Bedlam fan’s word for it, go see for yourself. For more info, go to: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/shows/bedlams-twelfth-night/