I am not a fan of Shakespeare's comedies. I have always been drawn to the tragedies, my favorite being "King Lear". I also enjoy the histories, and they are my favorite to study. I first met "Twelfth Night" in 3rd form and I read it with my father. It was the only play we were to read together, as he passed away just after. "As You Like It" and "Much Ado About Nothing" came later in high school but I always found them overrated.
So, with a soft spot for "Twelfth Night", I joined a virtual line to get tickets to see the play. It's a random choosing so I was very lucky to get tickets on Wednesday. I was so excited. I went to pick them up just after 6 but they didn't let people into the Delacorte Theater until 7:45, so it was a wait. And with the monsoon weather we've been having, it was a wait with my heart in my throat.
I thought I dressed well for the weather. I wore a sweater over my tank and took my raincoat and umbrella. But it was still cold. Very cold. People brought blankets and I wished I'd thought of that but I was a Shakepeare in the Park novice. People around me commented that it was much better this way than when it is muggy and hot because it just feels uncomfortable with so many people.
I got a seat at the end, near the aisle, with a terrific view of the stage. I'll post some pictures over on Facebook a little later. You weren't supposed to take pix but I had no flash on my camera phone, so I got some before the play started. I wanted to take a couple of the actors while the light was still good but there were a lot of ushers around me so I didn't get the chance. Besides, when the play started, I didn't want to do anything else.
I do not think I have ever laughed so hard with this play. The interpretation was hilarious and the actors used the language as if they spoke it every day of their lives. It reminded me of "Romeo + Juliet" when Claire Danes screams "My only love sprung from my only hate!" It was a way of hearing the words leap off the page and make you forget it was written nearly 500 years ago.
It was Hamish Linklater who ran away with the show with his portrayal of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He was delightfully foppish and brought a wickedly funny and, dare I say, sympatheic element to the naive and manipulated Aguecheek. I never like Aguecheek in the play and never warmed to him in any other production I've ever seen. But this time, I laughed so hard, I cried whenever he was on stage.
It wasn't just what he said, it was all the little non-scripted actions and nuances that Linklater brought to the character that made him endearing. I found myself longing for him to return to the stage, despite the fact that I knew exactly what was going to happen. I wanted to see him fall, frown, and hear him whine in his high-pitched voice that never managed to become annoying. He wore a long, flaxen wig and I wanted to die everytime he flipped his hair.
He was given every opportunity to shine with the bawdy and ridiculously funny antics of Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Feste, with Fabian (Jon Patrick Walker) joining in for good measure. Julie White, a tiny thing, gave Maria a jauntiness and life to her mischief. Jay O. Sanders played Sir Toby and swung his bulk around with ease. He and White had terrific chemistry on stage and if I found it unbelieveable that Sir Toby and Maria got married in the play, I didn't feel that way this time. Their interaction was as much courtship as it was to create high jinks.
The Fool sings a great deal in the play and David Pittu was ideally cast as Feste. His voice was nothing short of divine. He sings a song for Orsino (Raul Esparza), who joins in as Viola/Cesario looks on in pain, and he, too, has an amazing voice. The songs, and the vocals, added another dimension to the entertainment that I didn't expect. Just to sit back and enjoy someone's magnificent voice was delightful.
Hathaway sang in her first scene as Cesario and she is always a treat to hear. Audra McDonald, as Olivia, only joins in during the last song but just a few notes of her lovely operatic voice is enough.
Speaking of McDonald, she brought a sweet girlishness to the role of Olivia. She giggled and twirled and the delicious look on her face when she thought there were two Sebastians had me falling out of my seat.
And couldn't leave out Michael Cumpsty, in the funny but thankless role of the unfortunately-named Malvolio. His letter-reading scene was hysterically funny, as was his appearance in yellow stockings with cross-garters. Words cannot do justice to that image. That he had to pause to let the audience's laughter die down in both those scenes, should give some idea.
The rain held off until the very end, when a light drizzle started during the last song, which includes a line about the "wind and the rain". When Feste sang it, he looked up and laughed and got a rousing round of applause, deservedly.
It was a delightful performance. I didn't realize I knew most of the dialogue until I sat down and "season'd a brother's dead love" took me back to Roydon Salick's Shakespeare I. Ahhh, the memories.
So, if you're in New York between now and July 12, I recommend lining up, online or physically, to get your free tickets and enjoy Shakepeare in the Park - Twelfth Night. I can guarantee you will enjoy yourself hugely.