REVIEW: “Twelfth Night” at Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park

Twelfth Night Illuminates the Pittsfield Sky

by Barbara Waldinger

How exciting it is to see the revitalization of Pittsfield!  Ever since the dark days following the closing of the GE plant, the city has been struggling to recover its stature.  Now, rejuvenated by the appearance of theatres, art galleries, restaurants, stores, hotels and an ongoing commitment to community development and involvement, Pittsfield has been making a comeback.  Last night, with the opening of Twelfth Night on the heels of a Third Thursday teeming with people of all ages, dancing, singing, eating, viewing pop-up performances and generally celebrating, Pittsfield has arrived.

This is the fourth season that director Enrico Spada offers free Shakespeare performances on the First Street Common.   Beginning with Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2014, Spada went on to direct Romeo and Juliet in 2015 and The Tempest in 2016.  In addition to leading sponsor The Feigenbaum Foundation, the company is generously supported by the City of Pittsfield, both financially and through its many volunteers, including churches, synagogues, schools, libraries and clubs.

Twelfth Night springs to life on a colorful, cartoon-like set designed by Ron Piazza, with many steps and high platforms that accommodate the entire cast of fourteen actors, several of whom play multiple roles.  Except for a blip during the final song, the sound system (designed by Enrico Spada and engineered by Jaramy Moran), serves the production well—amplified by their visible microphones, the actors can be heard throughout the park.  Lighting designer Maia Robbins-Zust keeps the actors in view at all times–even Malvolio, purportedly locked up in a dark cell on a lower stage.   Deborah Morris and Patrick Toole composed wonderful songs beautifully sung by Alexia Trainor, who accompanies herself on a ukulele.  The costumes, designed by Stella Schwartz and assisted by JV Hampton-Van Sant, add jolts of color, humor and originality to the production.

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The cast consists of a combination of experienced actors and relative newcomers.  Besides Viola (Caroline Fairweather), the trouser role, there is some unexpected gender-bending:  Antonia (Leslie Field), Malvolio (Dana M. Harrison), Feste (Alexia Trainor), Fabian (Brittany Nicholson) and the Sea Captain (Claudia Maurino) are all played by women.   Particularly noteworthy performers include:  Barby Cardillo as Maria, who brings such energy and hilarity to her character that she invigorates everyone around her; Alexia Trainor, who captures the humor of the fool despite the difficulty of adapting Shakespeare’s verbal wit to a modern audience, and turns the Pastor Sir Topas into a Southern preacher; Hana Kenny, whose Olivia literally chases Viola around the stage; and Dana M. Harrison, who dances her way through Malvolio’s transformation but does not shy away from threatening revenge on her tormentors as she makes her final exit.

Spada has trimmed the play to about two hours (not including intermission).  He keeps the action moving, filing the transitions with musical interludes, and introduces some surprising comic touches along the way.  The duel between Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek substitutes heavy, cumbersome spears for the usual swords, and it is hapless keystone cops who try to disentangle them.  Fabian’s clumsy descent from one of the high platforms to retrieve Maria’s elusive letter upstages everyone (in a good way) and the Sound of Music refrain is a welcome addition.

The recognition scene is enhanced by sensitive choreography and, during Feste’s final song, the actors combine into various pairs in a lovely pas de deux as they depart from the stage.  Encouraged to join in the singing and rhythmic clapping, the audience leaves the park feeling uplifted.

Twelfth Night runs from July 20—August 6 at Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park.  It is free—bring your own chairs.

Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park presents Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.   Cast:  Julius Reese (Orsino), Lindsay Dewinkeleer (Curio, Lady in Waiting, Officer), CJ Morgan (Valentine, Officer, Priest), Caroliine Fairweather (Viola), Claudia Maurino (Sea Captain, Lady in Waiting, Officer), Jeffrey Kent (Sir Toby Belch), Barby Cardillo (Maria), Hunter Washburne (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Alexia Trainor (Feste), Hana Kenny (Olivia), Dana M. Harrison (Malvolio), Leslie Field (Antonia), John Buckley (Sebastian), Brittany Nicholson (Fabian).  Director:  Enrico Spada, Scenic Design: Ron Piazza, Costume Design:  Stella Schwartz, Sound Design:  Enrico Spada, Lighting Design:  Maia Robbins-Zust, Sound Engineer:  Jaramy Moran, Songs Composed by Deborah Morris and Patrick Toole.  Running time:  2 hours 20 minutes including intermission; at Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park on the First Street Common; Thursdays—Sundays at 8pm, from July 20; closing August 6.

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