Twelfth Night Dazzles with Wit, Song, and Laughter in Rhinebeck

by Kevin T McEneaney

The key to the success of any play lies on the shoulders of actors and the Director. This production directed by Peter Risafi presents a superb version of a timeless classic that has enchanted audiences over the centuries with its examination of characters under the stress of fortune: how they misconstrue life, and how they rise to mend their lives with ardent love. 

Next to Hamlet, Twelfth Night (or what you will) remains Shakespeare’s most autobiographical play. In the character of Hamlet, we meet a tragic character of high moral and philosophical valor. Twelfth Night offers a self-portrait of the author whose comic wit enables him to ridicule others while offering others paradoxical wisdom as he pockets whatever loose change jingles in their pockets. Both plays are revenge plays, one tragic, one comic. Feste, the principal character in the play, is a figura of the author whose wit dazzles others as he challenges others to think of their plight in life, warning others that appearances are not what reality is; he can’t control anything, yet he is there to advise in comic riddles and improvised songs. Peter Kiewra’s chameleon-like performance as mind-reading jester is stunning. This production has that starlit quality that makes the viewer want to round up a group of friends for a second viewing of the performance.

Tamara Cacchione, Camille Parlman

Camille Parlman as the shipwrecked Viola/Cesario delivers that androgenous charm that allows her playing the male sex in the hope of winning aristocratic Orsino, who attempts to court a lady of his own class, but who wishes to marry for love not social rank, seduces the audience to identify with her thwarted hope. (Sigmund Freud was fascinated by Shakespeare because he recognized Willy as a master psychologist.) Tamara Cacchione as the wealthy countess Olivia searching for true love exudes desperation and bewilderment with such deep emotion that the audience can only admire her quest. The stalwart conservative Puritan steward Malvolio, played  with consummate conviction by Michael Britt, is misled by his ambition, falls to madness, and humiliation and undergoes comic exorcism.

Lou Trapani, Molly Febel

The guilty conspirators who drive the plot’s machinations are Olivia’s maid Maria, played by Molly Feibel with winsome angelic touch, and Olivia’s uncle, the drunken Sir Toby Belch, played by Lou Trapani with casual, sardonic voice and body language which delivers many unspoken lines, that weave a web collapsing under the force of honesty and true love. Harrison Mark as the earnest fool Fabian sails amazingly well in a difficult role.

Orsino, the august and upright Count, played by Johncarlo Zani with dignity and rectitude, offers stubborn manners, making us aware that the very rich have few answers to anything yet that does not change their luck. Doug Woolley as the sea captain provides earnest bewilderment for his bad fortune and good heart. Dennis Wakeman as Sebastian convinces us that his good luck is nearly miraculous.

Jeremy Ratel doubles as Antonio, sidekick to Sir Toby Belch, and as Assistant Director. Peter Kiewra composed music and sang sonorously with Renaissance zither, played flute, and was sometimes backed by Alex Boffoli on guitar.

Shakespeare’s topsy-turfy world possesses many angles to ponder amid laughter, silly swordsmanship, and song leading to wisdom and happiness.

This Scripps production at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck runs to April 8. It’s best to bring a companion or group for the full experience. For more information or tickets click here

From left: Harrison Mark, Johncarlo Zani, Peter Kiera, Camille Parlman, Lou Trapani, Tamara Cacchione, Michael Britt

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books