Despite some uneven acting, the current Agora Players outdoor presentation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night — under the direction of Julia Hundt — brightens the summer night in the Southern Part of Heaven. Indeed, Shakespeare under the stars in Southern Village in Chapel Hill is a bracing antidote for the hot and humid Dog Days of summer, North Carolina style.
Brian Luukinen makes a regal Duke Orsino; but Rebecca Bratten is less satisfactory as the elusive object of the Duke’s affections, the melancholy and aloof Lady Olivia, still swathed in black and mourning the death of her beloved father and brother. When a handsome new boy named Cesario (Kathleen Slattery) arrives at her gate, bearing unwelcome love notes from the Duke, Bratten’s Olivia is immediately hot to trot — even vixenish — when a little less eagerness to couple would be more becoming to the lady whom she plays.
Slattery is good as the shipwrecked Viola, cross-dressing for safety and pretending to be a youth named Cesario; and Sante Piracci, who plays Viola’s shipwrecked brother Sebastian, also cuts a fine figure. Indeed, he bears an uncanny likeness — in height, build, and hair color — to Slattery, although his swashbuckling Sebastian is in stark contrast to Viola’s more cerebral Cesario.
Thomas Transue is a pint-sized Sir Toby Belch, and Ted Rolle III is just a slip of a boy as Olivia’s disagreeable but persistent fortune-hunting suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Beside the undersized Transue and Rolle, Kate Slattery is a veritable giant.
Kendall Rileigh’s characterization of the Lady Olivia’s mischievous chambermaid and confidant Maria is a bit screechy; and she is too definitely tall for her the drunken Sir Toby, who fervently chases Maria until she catches him. Jessica Hiltabidle is much more persuasive as Antonia, the courageous pirate captain who risks her life by accompanying her new friend Sebastian to Illyria, where she is numbered among Illyria’s Most Wanted.
African-American actor Dante Walker adds to his reputation as one of the Triangle’s finest actors with a loose-limbed, strutting, Southern-fried comic characterization of Feste the Fool, who impertinently talks back to Duke Orsino and Lady Olivia and eagerly participates in even the most devilish practical jokes devised by Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew to torment Olivia’s steward, the pompous, puritanical Malvolio (Carroll Credle in, perhaps, the funniest performance of his career to date). One of the highlights of the evening was Walker’s impish impersonation of Sir Topaz the Curate, speaking to poor, put-upon, unjustly imprisoned Malvolio in the cadences of a backwoods Southern preacher on a tear.
Fiddlers Gordon Emerson and Rhionnon Jones’ live performance of the show’s original score by Kate Slattery adds a nice touch to director Julia Hunt’s rollicking reimagination of this classic comedy; and costume designer Rebecca Bratten has outfitted the cast in an impressive array of Renaissance duds. But the interludes of swordplay devised by fight coordinator Jonathan Bratten and fight choreographer Jessica Hiltabidle would be more authentic if Sir Toby and Sir Andrew were crossing blades with someone closer to their stature.
The Agora Players present Twelfth Night Thursday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m.; and Thursday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m. on the Market Street lawn in Southern Village, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Note: The audience is encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs.. Shakespeare Resources (University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (First Folio, 1623, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTNF.html. E-Text (Globe Edition, 1866, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTwel.html.
The Agora Players, formed in February 2004 to give people of all ages and levels of experience a chance to perform classic theater pieces, will present a free outdoor production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Julia Hundt, Aug. 14, 15, 18, 21, 22, and 25 on the Market Street lawn in Southern Village in Chapel Hill, NC. The same troupe performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another uproarious romantic comedy by the Immortal Bard, June 20, 21, and 23, 2004 in Southern Village.
Probably based on the 1531 Sienese comedy Gl’ingannati (The Deceived) and first performed in 1601-02, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will is a marvelous comedy of mistaken identities, instant infatuations, drunken revelries, cruel practical jokes, and the narcissism of the peacock-proud and incurably pompous Malvolio (played here by Carroll Credle).
Encyclopædia Britannica summarizes the plot as follows: “Twins Sebastian and Viola [played by Sante Piracci and Kathleen Slattery in the current production]are separated during a shipwreck off the coast of Illyria; each believes the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy named Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino [Brian Luukinen], who thinks he is in love with the Lady Olivia [Rebecca Bratten]. Orsino sends Viola-Cesario to plead his cause to Olivia, who promptly falls in love with the messenger. Viola, meanwhile, is in love with Orsino, and when her twin, Sebastian, is rediscovered, many comic situations of mistaken identity ensue. There is a humorous subplot involving the members of Lady Olivia’s household — Feste the jester [Dante Walker], Maria [Kendall Rileigh], Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch [Thomas Transue], and Sir Toby’s friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek [Ted Rolle] — who scheme to undermine the high-minded, pompous Malvolio. At the play’s end, Malvolio is the only solitary figure among the pairs of happy lovers.”
The Encyclopædia adds, “The play pokes gentle fun at wooing and the folly of lovers. Duke Orsino, for example, is in love with the state of being in love, and Lady Olivia’s initial vow of isolation to honour her dead brother is exposed as excessive and even self-indulgent. The two positions are contrasted with the mature and sensible attitude of Viola.”
In addition to director Julia Hundt, who doubles as set and lighting designer, The Agora Players production team for Twelfth Night includes costume designer Rebecca Bratten, fight choreographer Jessica Hiltabidle, and fight trainer Jonathan Bratten. The show also features an original score by Kathleen Slattery.
In preshow publicity, Agora Players co-founder Kathleen Slattery says, “The production promises a lively spectacle — gypsy lords, pirate queens, and sword fighting — which will appeal to the whole family. Beneath its lively and romantic exterior, this play also provokes a poignant sense of the fleetingness of youth and the instability of love, and poses questions about the limits of human understanding.”
The Agora Players present Twelfth Night Sunday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 15, at 8 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m.; and Thursday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m. on the Market Street lawn in Southern Village, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Note: The audience is encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs. Shakespeare Resources (University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (First Folio, 1623, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTNF.html. E-Text (Globe Edition, 1866, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTwel.html.