Orlando Shakespeare Theater
By William Shakespeare
Director Carolyn Howarth
Starring Thomas Leverton, Austin Larkin, Timothy Williams, John P Keller
Well, this is certainly a codpiece festival with extra tartar sauce on the side. Twins Sebastian (Larkin) and Viola (Leverton) find themselves shipwrecked on an island but separated. Trust me on this, it’s in the Cliff Notes and happens here so quickly you might miss it. Sebastian ends up backstage somewhere, and Viola (now calling herself Cesario) is in service to Orsino (Tim Williams). She also in love with him, that’s a good bit clearer. But Orsino craves the distant Olivia (Keller) who falls for Sebastian and gets confused by Viola while the local’s wags Sir Toby Belch (Chris Mixon) and maid Maria (Philip Nolen) torture stuck up factotum Malvolio (Helsinger). Beyond that I refer you to the Cliff Notes or the internet or my 20-pound secret decoder ring: “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.” But never mind the plot, no one can keep it straight and it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is the bawdy mix of slapstick, codpieces, and trap doors. Everybody floats lightly over the top, with the large female matrons (Nolan and Keller) flowing about the stage as if midget stage hands are pushing them about on rollers. More humor arises from the Elizabethan convention of only males on stage; this gives us a chuckle or two of a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man. I’m not big on cross gender Shakespeare, but here is does work well. There are fights with swords and sharp words: Tim Williams is the top swordsman here, Sir Toby Belch spouts the best gags, and Helsinger’s Malvolio begins looking like a constipated president, only to burst forth as a punching bag of pompous air deflated by love. The set design (by Kat Conley) aims to be as authentically Elizabethan as one can pull off in Central Florida: LED candles light the stage (aided slightly by the regular cans) and the audience stays in half-light the whole evening. Outside the theater things remain mostly 21st century: no hazel nuts for sale and the ales are all micro brews. Thankfully the Jakes is still equipped with running water and TP. This is the Funny Shakespearean production this year and plot be damned, it really delivers the yucks.