By Kay Kipling
Cale Haupert, Maxey Whitehead, Kristen Lynne Blossom and Lucy Lavely in Twelfth Night.
If you think of Shakespeare’s classic Twelfth Night as a “rom-com” (romantic comedy), the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s current production boasts a lot more of the “com” than the “rom.”
Most of the time, that’s all right, as there are good laughs and strong comic performances to be had. Occasionally, though, you long for a little more softness and feeling along with the broad swatches of humor.
The piece starts off with some of that feeling, as we meet the shipwrecked Viola (Maxey Whitehead, in a nicely tuned performance), pouring her heart out to the ship captain who’s rescued her but not, she believes, her twin brother, Sebastian. Alone and afraid, she decides to don men’s clothing (here, some preppy threads including an argyle sweater and cap) and ends up as servant to the melancholy count Orsino (Cale Haupert, who comes across a little stiff). He’s pining for unrequited love of the lady Olivia (Amanda Lynn Mullen), who in turn finds herself strangely attracted to the young Cesario/Viola.
There’s plenty of gender confusion to go around, as Feste the clown, usually played by a male, is portrayed here by Lucy Lavely, who gets to sing a number of tunes in the show, which features music ranging from classical to pop (some while she’s perched seductively atop a piano), and the smaller role of Fabian is likewise played by a female (Kristin Lynne Blossom, who gives the role a funny New York accent.) The comic cohort of the hard-drinking Sir Toby and Sir Andrew Aguecheek do, however, remain men (Brian Nemiroff and Zlatomir Moldovanski), although Sir Andrew’s pursuit of Olivia may seem rather half-hearted.
Of course all’s well that ends well in a Shakespeare comedy, except perhaps for Olivia’s servant, Malvolio (Reginald K. Robinson), who gets a raw deal from the aforementioned Sirs and their co-conspirator, Maria (Tori Grace Hines). The threesome make him believe that Olivia is attracted to him, which requires Malvolio to try to alter his sober, serious character on her behalf, and it’s great fun to see Robinson twisting his sour features into the bright smile he thinks she wants from him.
It’s also fun to gaze on Chris McVicker’s bold set (composed of black, white, red and shades of blue at times) and admire David Covach’s costumes (including the black pants and white coat and shoes of Toby, making him look like something of a New Jersey disco king, and the snug-fitting harlequinish attire of Feste). And for Conservatory followers, it’s always refreshing to see a new crop of talented MFA students and watch them spread their wings. One case in point: Jefferson McDonald, who not only essays the dual roles of sea captain and brother Sebastian but plays some nice accordion and piano at times, too.
Twelfth Night continues through Nov. 18 at the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.