New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"Twelfth Night"
The Summer Theatre of New Canaan, New Canaan

Shakespeare is bustin’ out all over--on Connecticut’s riverfronts, estates, public parks and town greens. With the vibrant response of audiences, Shakespeare is indeed enjoying a renaissance, at least in Connecticut.

Recently joining this elite community is The Summer Theatre of New Canaan, whose “Twelfth Night” is now playing at its Irwin Park theater. The Summer Theatre of Connecticut is a family matter, harking back to theater’s ancient traditions in which one family ran the family business. Melody Libonati is the company’s artistic director, Ed Libonati is Executive Producer, daughter Allegra Libonati directs “Twelfth Night” and son Christian Libonati is in the cast.

The Park itself, once the Watson/Irwin estate, is an idyllic setting of green lawns and rolling hills. In its midst, an exquisite little theater has been created for the company. The stage and seating have a permanent canopy covering, but is open to the elements on all sides.

“Twelfth Night” makes the most of this bonding with nature. At a recent performance, the rains came down all around, stopping only at intermission and before and after the show. How appropriate for “Twelfth Night,” which is the tale of ship-wrecked twins washed ashore on the mythical land of Illyria! The production, in fact, features a pool on stage, where characters are often bathed, immersed, and submerged.

The story, so typical of Shakespeare’s comedies, deals with girls disguised as boys, twins separated at sea, love misplaced, and wild misunderstandings—all of which are resolved in act five. All’s well that ends well.

It is a magical production—different, fresh, and imaginative—clearly a case where less is more. With a minimum of props, “Twelfth Night” glides smoothly from scene to scene. The simple thrust stage is framed by a postcard-like proscenium, which lies open at the rear, revealing the distant hills and trees. As the evening darkens, the plot, in perfect harmony, intensifies.

Yet at times the play feels overlong. Shakespeare’s comedic talk, with bawdy Elizabethan phrases that are obsolete and difficult to follow, makes one wish the director had dared to prune lines and cut scenes.

Yet Allegra Libonati directs the show with a sure hand. As to the players themselves, several, though not all, are superb. Particularly worthy of high praise are those who provide the comic routines—Brian Silliman as Sir Toby Belch, Rachel Benbow Murdy as Maria, his partner in crime, and the wonderful Richard Sheridan Willis as the much-put-upon Malvolio. Darren Ryan, as Feste the clown, adds enchanting Elizabethan tunes with a ukulele and a mellow voice, and Lindsay Rae Taylor is delicious as Viola, one of the twins.

But the star of this show is really the design team. Patrick Lynch (set), Kristen Sieh (costumes), Dan Chapman (lighting), and David Turner (music, sound) all work flawlessly with director Libonati to create that never-never world of Illyria.

-- -Irene Backalenick
July 5, 2008 


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