by Michael Block
Shakespeare is a crowd pleaser. It draws audiences in thanks to familiarity. But with an abundance of companies taking on the Bard, you have to do more than just tackle the text. These stories are known but when you sit in the audience and have difficulty deciphering the plot, you've got problems. Such is the case in Monday Theatre Company's production of Twelfth Night. Riddled with clarity woes, the gender-bending comedy never quite finds its footing or purpose.
In case you haven't seen "She's the Man" recently, the Bard's play brings romance and comedic situations where a young woman poses as a man, falls for her master who pines for another. All this is flanked by whacky supporting characters that help to maintain the funny. Aside from modern dress and liberties that would make Willy S. roll over in his grave, Twelfth Night lacks a concept. Guiding a production of Shakespeare takes precision. Unfortunately director Joe Raik didn't have that. Raik's vision was sadly flat. Whether it was the cut or where the focus fell, this Twelfth Night seemed to emphasize the subplot more than anything. It was almost as if milking the prospect of humor is what Raik relied on. Between the whacky antics of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew, Feste and co and the hopefully humorous love triangle, Raik’s production lacked cohesion. The two worlds were divided apart stylistically. From a staging perspective, the cramped venue hindered Raik’s potential. Raik was forced into generic staging. Raik tried to fluidly move from scene to scene but with so many moving parts and little options to enter and exit, it didn’t quite happen.
Every actor wishes they could perform Shakespeare. In reality, it’s not always the case. Sadly, that was showcased in Monday Theatre Company’s production. It felt like a scene study class as opposed to a polished product. But for those who could tackle the Bard, their performances stood out. By far, the strongest performance came from Stephanie Hawkins as Feste. Hawkins took on the clownish nature of Feste with flair and panache. There was an ease to Hawksins’ performance. She had fun, and in turn, it was infectious for the audience. Benjamin Frankenberg had an interesting take on Orsino. Playing him as an alternative rock star was cool. Though in the landscape of the remainder of the play, the look was out of place. Had Raik used this explored this concept further, perhaps this Twelfth Night could have rocked as hard as Frankenberg did. Viola is an essential role of this play. Laurel Andersen unfortunately lacked the ability to carry the show. There was a blandness to her performance. Andersen also had a striking resemblance in costume to Jerick Hoffer, the real life persona of Drag Race champion Jinkx Monsoon. Jo’Lisa Jones amplified the drunk nature of Sir Toby Belch. What hurt her performance was maintaining the high octane bellowing from start to finish. Lebogang Ashleigh Fisher added ferocity to her Olivia. She made her the ultimate diva. In a sense it worked but it was a tad one-dimensional.
You could easily blame the restrictive nature of the venue for the lack of substance but Monday Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night may have simply been a case of a big dreams that couldn't be realized.