Presented by The Alley Theatre at the Hubbard Stage, Houston, Texas. February 20-March 14, 2004. Directed by Gregory Boyd. Set by Kevin Rigdon. Costumes by Fabio Toblini. Lighting by Chris Parry. Sound and music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Fights by Brian Byrnes. With Todd Waite (Orsino), Philip Lehl (Valentine, Fabian), Josie de Guzman (Viola), Charles Krohn (Captain, Priest), James Black (Sir Toby Belch), Kimberly King (Maria), John Tyson (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Jeffrey Bean (Feste), Elizabeth Heflin (Olivia), Paul Hope (Malvolio), James Belcher (Antonio), Daniel Magill (Sebastian), and others.
Gregory Boyd's wonderfully funny and poignant Twelfth Night begins with a prologue borrowed from Trevor Nunn's 1996 film, which narrates the story of the shipwreck that divides Viola and Sebastian. The entire cast shares the lines and occasionally speaks in unison, Chores-like, while Josie de Guzman and Daniel Magill pantomime the tragic parting of the twins: "deep currents, and the sinking bark above them, divide what naught had ever kept apart." Boyd's use of Nunn's narration foregrounds the productions citation of the play's recent performance history--it also refers to Kenneth Branagh's 1988 stage and television production--but also highlights its emphasis on theatricality.
The audience is reminded throughout that they are watching a play. After the prologue, Olivia remains on stage and serves as a silent illustration of Orsino's obsessive love. She unveils her face as he sighs, "O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, / Methought she purged the air of pestilence," allowing him to gaze reverently at her black-clad form. The transitions between many scenes are staged as mini musical numbers, with Viola dancing on her way between Orsino and Olivia's estates. She and Feste sing a jazzy duet after the intermission--an adaptation of Sonnet 147 ("My love is as a fever") that is set, appropriately enough, to the tune "Fever." The outdoor setting of the box tree scene is designated only by a five-foot high canvas on wheels painted with greenery, behind which the conspirators hide. At the end of this scene, the lights come up on the theater audience as Sir Andrew performs a hapless jig. Finally, the end of the production echoes the prologue: the cast enter bearing umbrellas to join Feste in the last lines of his song: "But that's all one, our play is done, / And we'll strive to please you every day." All of these choices capitalize on the play's self-reflexive theatrically, underscoring rather than obscuring the performance as theater.
The production's primary emphasis is on the play's comedy, rooted in the atmosphere of masquerade and games implicit in the plot structure and language of the text. De Guzman shows that Viola is liberated, rather than confined, by her male disguise, jitterbugging happily to the jazzy incidental music and giving a saucy thumbs-up to Malvolio on her way in to see Olivia. Her revelation that she loves Orsino ("Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife") and her ring speech display a good-natured appreciation for the ridiculousness of her situation; yet she glosses over the sadness and longing at the heart of the character. Similarly, Todd Waite makes Orsino's love-sickness comically ridiculous; in 2.4, he enters shirtless and carrying bunches of red roses. …