Review: Fools Rule in Shakespeare Orange County’s Twelfth Night

Alyssa Bradac as Feste in SOC’s Twelfth Night

Sometimes it’s just a fact – fools rule. Shakespeare knew it and always made sure the fool had a prominent place in his comedies. In Twelfth Night or What You Will, Feste, Countess Olivia’s clown, is one of the best examples of a fool; one whom we learn right away is actually wiser than everyone around him. His unique position allows him to say what others cannot, expressing his witty observances in riddling phrases and ironic songs for “better a witty fool, than a foolish wit,” quoth he, and the comparison to a true idiot – one Sir Andrew Aguecheek – draws peals of laughter from the audience.

Alyssa Bradac takes on the role of Feste in Shakespeare Orange County’s Twelfth Night and from her first entrance on her 3-wheeled bicycle to her very last bittersweet song at the finale, she owns the show. Brazen, philosophical, facetious and silly, she rolls out a myriad of colors to illustrate her thoughts and takes charge of the spinning moral compass others cannot seem to read. It’s a revelatory performance that makes everything else work. Bradac also co-directs, along with her father Thomas F. Bradac, who will be stepping down after 34 years of leading the company at the end of the summer season. 

John Walcutt

Stepping up as the new artistic director is John Walcutt, whom you’ll see taking on both comedy and tragedy this summer. Following a comedic tryst as the sulking Malvolio in Twelfth Night, he will appear in the title role in Macbeth. Each character gets his comeuppance over the course of the play, albeit in very different ways.

As Malvolio, Walcutt plays a mean old buzzard whom no one likes, so much so that his peers will concoct an elaborately cruel plan to humiliate him in front of the Countess Olivia (Marisa Costa), with whom he is in love. Malvolio is a terrific role and Walcutt creates a sour old man who fancies himself an heir to the likes of Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond in private. His bold gyrations and rock star mannerisms make for some extremely funny moments for the audience and are often quite memorable.

Still I couldn’t help but feel that SOC’s island of Illyria was at times confusing. Though no specific time period or location is named in the program, the tropical breezes blow to a distinctly island (not Elvis) beat. Duke Orsino (Jeffrey James Lippold) is the very picture and persona of a swashbuckling Errol Flynn and Maria (Amanda Arbues), Olivia’s maid, has the presence of, and is dressed as, a saucy pirate wench. Olivia is a mourning Spanish vision of nobility who acts out like a spoiled sorority girl. Kevin Swanstrom’s foppish Sir Andrew mugs throughout the show and kills his own humor while dressed in full comic Elizabethan garb, and the set design, a marvelous creation of white boards and colored lights by Eric Barker (scenic design) and William & Jennifer Georges (lighting design) is done with a decidedly modern flair.

In addition to Bradac and Walcutt, John Frederick Jones as the drunken Sir Toby and Shaun Anthony as Viola’s (Karissa Vacker) lost twin, Sebastian, give outstanding performances. Anthony scores the single best laugh of the night with his take to the audience when Olivia mistakes him for Cesario. His timing is impeccable and he’s grounded and present in every moment.

Vacker has the poise, perfect diction, and stage presence to create an engaging Viola but feels superficial in the role, failing to express the full measure of subtext in her character’s desires. Her ring speech is merely a recitation and lacks discovery in the moment, a difficulty she shares with Arbues when she devises her plot to trick Malvolio.

Yet, when any of the characters interact with Feste, he somehow manages to bring them present to themselves and to the scene at hand, creating cohesion out of an unusual assortment of characters and situations, while making them think about their actions. Yes, it always comes back to the fool. It’s appropriate then that the fool should have the last word in Twelfth Night. Shakespeare knew it, and you can take that as you will.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

286 Orsino and Cesario2

Jeffrey James Lippold as Orsino and Karissa Vacker as Viola


TWELFTH NIGHT

Shakespeare Orange County
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through August 3, 2013
Festival Amphitheatre, 12762 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA.
Pre-show on the green at 7:30 pm. Main stage performance begins at 8:15 pm.
Call 714-590-1575 or visit www.shakespeareoc.org.

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