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Twelfth Night review

Theater Center gives work a fanciful new look
The Dallas Morning News
March 7, 2001

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

The fourth time is the charm. Dallas and Fort Worth have seen three quite capable professional productions of Twelfth Night over the last three years. The new one that the Dallas Theater Center opened Tuesday at the Arts District Theater, though, lifts Shakespeare's comedy onto a new plane of humane elegance and imagination.

Director Richard Hamburger has seen to it that flights of fancy abound. Jesse Lenat as the clown, Feste, begins the second act with a vaudeville routine [Yes, We Have No Concerto] involving a banana that goes on forever and gets funnier as it does. The duel between Viola masquerading as Cesario (Mary Bacon) and the cowardly Sir Andrewcheek (Chamblee Ferguson) turns into a slow-motion boxing match paying homage to Raging Bull.

Anytime Mr. Hamburger and set designer Michael Yeargan get together, you can count on mutual inspiration. From the moment Ms. Bacon, shipwrecked, glides on stage on a half-sunken piano, the play's seacoast setting feels enchanted. The new score by John Mackey (of Parsons Dance Company fame) makes its almost constant music truly, as the text says, the food of love.

Mr. Hamburger has cast this Twelfth Night solidly down to the smallest role. The lord and lady for whom Viola serves as intermediary, Orsino (Jeremiah Wiggins) and Olivia (Krista Hoeppner), speak nobly and even get laughs. Their interpretations sadly lack a little of the dramatic specificity of many of their fellows.

Ms. Bacon, for instance, makes us believe entirely in her newly awakened passion for Orsino. The moment she begins to realize that her long-lost brother may also have survived lights the match for the longest, most carefully controlled realization of a recognition scene ever. If you have tears, prepare to shed them for a good 10 or 15 minutes.

Malvolio, the overbearing steward tricked by the other inmates of Olivia's household, can bore a Twelfth Night audience for half-hours at a time. Not Robin Chadwick. He pushes Malvolio's prissy officiousness just to the brink - but never beyond. He milks the central scene where the duped steward makes a fool of himself for laugh after explosive laugh.

Mr. Lenat at first seems uncomfortable as the fool. He settles down as soon as he gets to Mr. Mackey's first song. Twelfth Night is basically musical comedy, and Mr. Lenat - a member of Rent's original Broadway cast - sings all the numbers. You'll go home with his rendition of "The Rain It Raineth Every Day" ringing in your ears. You'll go home happy - in a deliciously melancholy sort of way.

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