Reviews: “Twelfth Night” & “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”

For theatre lovers who prefer their Shakespeare ‘al fresco’ – or for those who are still hesitant about venturing inside – two North Bay companies are presenting free outdoor productions of Bard-centric plays. They are adhering to all city, county, and state COVID protocols and the casts and crews have been fully vaccinated.

Mill Valley’s Curtain Theatre returns with Shakespeare’s comedic Twelfth Night while Healdsburg’s Raven Players presents every Shakespeare play known to man via The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most-produced plays. It contains all the familiar Shakespeare elements (shipwrecks, separated twins, gender-switched impersonations, trickery, unrequited love, sword fights, etc.) that, when delivered with gusto, usually make for raucous comedy.  

Grey Wolf (Malvolio), Lindsey Abbot (Fabian), Glen Havlan (Sir Toby Belch), Steve Beecroft (Sir Andrew Aguecheek)

Not this time. Aside from casting two actors (Isabelle Grimm, Nic Moore) as twins who actually appear as if they could be, I find Michele Delattre’s directorial choices somewhat confounding. She’s set the play in Victorian-era Eastern Canada which makes for nice costume options but adds little else (apparently there’s some connection to the show’s live incidental musical, which is always a pleasing element.)

The cast – many who’ve proven their comedic abilities in previous productions – never seem to get out of first gear. Nelson Brown’s Orsino is more flat-footed than head-over-heels in love with Olivia (Faryn Thomure.) Glenn Havlan’s Sir Toby Belch plays like he just came out of a 12-step program. Grey Wolf’s Malvolio is more milquetoast than malevolent. Heather Cherry’s Feste seems to have wandered in from a completely different play. Energy and passion are woefully missing and the pacing for everything just seems off.

The production does have its charms, but not nearly as many as it should.

Steven David Martin directs Nicholas Augusta, Matt Farrell, and Katie Watts-Whitaker in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The premise is simple: three actors compress Shakespeare’s 37 plays down to about two hours (with an intermission.)

The show is pure goofiness. It’s silly, crass, mildly adult, and occasionally comedically gory (I saw a younger member of the audience dive under a blanket during the Titus Andronicus as a Julia Child-type cooking show segment.) Mixed in with the butchering of the traditional dialogue are topical references, improvisation, and audience participation. The cast works hard to earn their audience’s laughter, which they did at the Sunday evening performance I attended.

Nicholas Augusta, Katie Watts-Whitaker, Matt Farrell

Pack a picnic, dress in layers, and bring a blanket. Old Mill Park by day and Healdsburg by night can get mighty chilly.

‘Twelfth Night’ runs Saturday–Sunday through September 5 with a special Monday, September 6 (Labor Day) performance at the Old Mill Park Amphitheater, 352 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. All shows 2pm. Free. curtaintheatre.org

‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’ runs through August 29 at West Plaza Park, 10 North St., Healdsburg. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 pm. Free. 707.433.6335 raventheater.org   

Photos by Russell Johnson and Ray Mabry

These reviews originally appeared in edited versions in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

                      

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