Monday, October 12, 2009

The Twelfth Night Performace

Yesterday I finally went to see Twelfth Night, at the Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland. The show is part of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival and we -- me, my sister Hannah, and our good friend George -- managed to get in on a group rate of $13 each. They were very good seats for that price and the show was just great. But first:

As the director of the festival walked onto the stage to deliver opening remarks he brought with him a big surprise: Tom Hanks. Tom got his start working as an intern at the Hanna and has returned for a few days to help raise the last chunk of money for its restoration. He said a few words, made the audience laugh -- most of the audience. I have never cared much for Hollywood movies, or his in particular. Yet I sensed this to be a momentous occasion. Alas, for Hollywood royalty he looked oddly human. When he left the stage he walked right past us and I wanted to shout something witty to him -- I was leaning towards "I loved you in 'Big'" -- but I chickened out. I managed only to whisper to my sister, "He must dye his hair."

He sat close enough that I could see him comfortably from my seat -- he didn't even know I was watchin' him. He watched some of the play -- just like a real person -- but snuck out sometime before the intermission -- not so much.

But to the play! It was, in short, better than I had hoped -- a play I enjoyed a lot on paper brought to beautiful life. Now I recognise the importance of performance -- especially with Shakespeare since the humor as written is rather archaic and needs a good shot in the arm. Shakespeare provides the ridiculous situations and fancy wording, but most of the big laughs came from pantomime, the unspoken aspects on which the directors have free reign. I was surprised by the number of laughs this play produced, though I was right there with the rest of the audience this time.

In this performance, the two knights, Toby and Andrew, absolutely stole the show. Their plotting and camaraderie eclipses the arguably more important plot lines. But that's just fine: first because this play is all about fun, laughs, entertainment; and second, because the other plot lines are not so great. The Sebastian-Antonio subplot is particularly slow and does not come to comic fruition until the last act.

The gags that produced the biggest laughs:
1) When Malvolio is reading the "love letter" he eventually reads the mysterious letters "MOAI" as "meoow."
2) In the same scene the plotters are scurrying around in the background . When Malvolio finally turns around they pretend to be a fountain and Toby spits water.
3) When Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Viola and eventually hurries him off-stage he turns around and mouths to the audience "Oh my God."

And others similar. Unfortunately, my two favorite scenes from the reading were toned down or at least mishandled. Malvolio's stockings were neither goofy nor yellow enough, and the "sword fight" was surprisingly low key. The ending was handled well, with plenty of uncomfortable moments, though I still think the final song by Feste kills the levity.

It was a great performance by a generally great troupe. I can not bring myself to choose a favorite actor, though the worst performance must go to the actress of Olivia.

The Hanna Theatre itself is an attractive place, as most theaters are, but it seems more intimate than the other ten or so I have visited. The stage projects far into the audience and two of the stage entrances require the actors to walk through the crowd. The place manages a great balance of intimacy and capacity, not sacrificing one for the other. It is perfect for Shakespeare and the director(s) took full advantage of it. Maybe Tom Hank's assertion that the Hanna is one of the best theaters in the world is not so far of the mark. (Send me some money if you want me to prove it.)

When the play was over we had to wait about an hour for out ride so we walked around. The place was desolate, even for a Sunday evening. I know the area well as I used to attend school (high school and college) but two blocks from the theater, and it was as depressing an experience as ever. You can smell the millions wasted -- on lures that never quite catch their suburban prey. For example, mere minutes after the show, the hundreds of spectators had evaporated. My dad's old shop sits derelict just across the street from the empty lot where I once went to school. The county and city governments are as corrupt as ever and the average person just as poor.

But the play was good! I wish I could do this kind of thing all the time.

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