Instead of the house lights dramatically lowering, and curtains opening up to an elaborate set, the grassy stage sprinkled with flowers and trees that matched the Central Park backdrop was an open display as soon as you entered the Delacorte Theatre. A few minutes after 8:00 p.m., men and women slowly walked out playing instruments, one adding on to another. They made themselves comfortable on a little hill, and a grandly dressed man walked in and stated the familiar, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Shakespeare in the Park’s Twelfth Night tells the story of a Duke named Orsino, who is in love with the Countess Olivia. At the same time, a shipwrecked Viola, believing her twin brother is dead, decides to disguise as a man named Cesario, and work for the Duke Orsino as an entertainer. Orsino sends Cesario to impress Olivia. But, both the Duke Orsino, and the Countess Olivia fall in love with Viola/Cesario. Meanwhile, Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, his friend, Olivia’s maid, and Olivia’s jester all play a trick on Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, so he believes Olivia loves him. The situation complicates when Viola’s identical twin brother, Sebastian, arrives, and Orsino and Olivia confuse Sebastian with Viola/Cesario. Everyone falls in love with the person they did not realize they would.
This comedy reminded me a bit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because of the mistaken love, switching lovers, and practical jokes. The comedic roles were very modern at times; I could imagine someone like Jim Carrey playing the role of the mischievous Sir Toby Belch. Twists in the plot made the story enjoyable, plus, what made it so great is that the tickets are free, so you can come back as many times as you want. You just have to wait in a line in Central Park until the tickets are handed out, but being surrounded by nature gets you in the mood for Twelfth Night.
This play was perfect for the outdoors, and a nice beginning to the New York tradition of free Shakespeare plays during the summer. At one point, when a dramatic fight scene between Viola/Cesario and Sir Toby’s friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek was brewing, thunder was heard off in the distance, and seemed like perfect timing.
The ensemble members/orchestra were the connection between the audience and the performers. During one scene, they would lounge on the stage and quietly play background music, then during the next, they would sit in black seats just to the side of the stage, and watch intently as if it was their first time seeing this play, laugh when we laughed, and whisper to each other, just like the audience was doing.
In the note from the artistic direction in the program, it said that Shakespeare in the Park knew from the beginning of the year that they were going to do a comedy because of the tough time we have all been through this year. I believe that they did a wonderful job in lightening everyone’s spirits, and bringing a wonderful show to enjoy at the beginning of the summer.