Anthony J. Piccione
This past summer, I had the honor of attending all three shows in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series on behalf of On Stage. I remember all three of those shows being some of the best examples of musical theatre that I’ve had the privilege of watching as a Connecticut theatergoer, and I couldn’t have asked for better show to review as a new writer at On Stage. However, this past week they were about to produce a very different kind of show: One of William Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies, Twelfth Night. I was very eager to see if it would meet the high expectations I had for CRT after seeing their previous work, as I attended the first performance of the show on Thursday night. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Produced in UConn’s Nate Katter Theatre, director Victor Maog does an excellent job at executing a vision for the show that is clearly designed to bring plenty of laughs for the audience during this holiday season. Throughout the production, the entire Black Box theater is put to fantastic use, as actors are seen entering from all over the place and with as high a level of enthusiasm that theatergoers could hope for. With excellent choreography from Marie Percy, many of the scenes also involve a great deal of movement that makes the show engaging from beginning to end.
The biggest highlight of the show, without a doubt, is the large cast of talented performers that all made the show a lively and entertaining experience. The cast consists of a strong mix of both student actors and more experienced performers, with all of them doing a respectable job in each of their respective roles. On the one hand, there is BFA actor Juliana Bearse and MFA actor Jeff Desisto, who turn in solid performance as Viola and Sebastian respectively. On the other hand, there is Richard Ruiz – known for his work with the Public Theater, Yale Repertory Theatre and Long Wharf Theater – who is highly delightful as Sir Toby Belch.
However, it was Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte – known for his work on popular TV shows such as Nurse Jackie and Law and Order: SVU – who ultimately steals the show. Guilarte’s energetic and hysterical performance as Malvolio proves to be the stand-out performance of the night, with two other notable highlights being the performances of Mark Blashford and Kevin Hilversum as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Feste respectively. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Olivia Benson, Arlene Bozich, Darren Lee Brown, Madison Coppola, Max Helfand, Curtis Longfellow, Chester Martin, Joon Ho Oh and Brian Sullivan.
Although it was mostly the actors that made this show such an enjoyable experience, there were also various technical elements that proved to be notable aspects of the production. The set of the production – designed by Brett Calvo – is one that is proves to be fitting for both the setting of the play and the holiday season, with even small Christmas trees on the sides of the set. This festive set is complimented nicely by sound effects designed by Abigail Golec, lighting effects designed by Justin Poruban, and most impressively, the diverse range of colorful costumes designed by Tuoxi Wu.
By the end of the night, I was blown away by the incredible level of dedication that this diverse and talented group of actors had put into the production, as well as that of the brilliant creative team. If you choose to attend only one show during this holiday season, and if you are someone who enjoys lots of laughs, I would certainly recommend going to see this show if you get the chance. This production shows exactly why it is, just as dramaturg Molly Hamilton put it, “one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies” and it is bound to be a highly pleasurable experience for theatergoers everywhere.
Twelfth Night runs at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre from December 3rd-13th. For more information, please visit www.crt.uconn.edu.