TOP’s Twelfth Night: When Shakespeare meets glamour

Fordham’s Theatrical Outreach Program (TOP) is capping of the fall theater season with a buoyant production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, designed with great attention to period detail and brought to life by a top-drawer cast.

When Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, she disguises herself as the male Cesario. She enters the service of Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. The Duke is in turn in love with the mournful Countess Olivia and asks “Cesario” to help him woo her, but the countess then falls in love with the girl in disguise.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s uncle Toby Belch and his servant Andrew Aguecheek want Olivia’s steward Malvolio to think she is in love with him, so they trick Malvolio into wearing yellow stockings to “impress” the countess.

Adding to the comedy, Sebastian, Viola’s brother who was thought dead, arrives and woos Olivia. This farcical cavalcade of misunderstood love leads to a satisfying, funny climax.

Director Ricky Bordelon (assisted by Ian Losa) makes sure every moment of the show, whether high comedy or passionate romance, is given the proper scope. Through transposing the show to the 1920s he also gives it a new glamour, which is reflected in just about every aspect of James Demetriades’ design.

The set is pretty simple, as is the norm in TOP shows, but the props, such as the smoking paraphernalia, bring across the 20s vibe. The vintage costumes are arresting, particularly a short dress worn by Olivia.

The opening shipwreck is communicated entirely through light cues- though the lights settle down after this, the fact that the audience remembers this opening salvo even after the curtain goes down shows its power.

The cast of both TOP stalwarts and newbies is first-rate. Jane Skapek shines as Viola, and makes the audience feel for her and her alter ego as they work through their romantic entanglements. As Olivia, Rachel Sternlicht transforms from dour to bubbly with ease. She makes the countess’s love for “Cesario” pure and believable.

Jack Mihalcik is tenderly charismatic as Sebastian, a potent mixture of love and mourning. Andrew Maddigan does fine work as Orsino, but he needs to work on his diction- “If music be the food of love, play on” deserves a more respectful enunciation than he gives it.

The supporting cast of “fools” has wonderful comic timing. As the drunken revelers Toby and Andrew, Gavin Barba and Allie Russo have terrific chemistry, and so make the audience more invested in their foolish plans.

Max Beyer gives it his all as the foppish Malvolio, the victim of the duo’s schemes — thanks to his hilarious work, the yellow stocking scene leaves the audience in stitches (he also choreographed the fight scenes, which are impressive whether the weapons are fists or wooden swords).

As Maria the conspiring servant, Katie Dolan makes the switch from anguished scold to willing participant believable, no easy feat. She also provides bouncy piano accompaniment to Colette Berg’s “fool” Feste, who gets to show off her singing chops by belting out some 1920s classics- with these performances (which replace Feste’s normal songs), Berg proves she has a great talent for musical theatre, which she should pursue.

It may be rainy outdoors, but inside Collins all is sunny. TOP’s wonderful Twelfth Night perfectly marries Shakespearean merriment and ’20s glamour.

Disclaimer: Ricky Bordelon and James Demetriades are the critic’s roommates.

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