“Troth sir, I can yield you none without words, and words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason with them.”
—Feste, Act 2, Scene 5
Truly, a fine madness has descended on Brampton. Human beings of all persuasions (denialists, revisionists, outright liars and those who engage in the fine art of willful blindness) must venture forth to the A.C.T. Production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. For there,—occasionally competing with urban cacophony—the ear, eye and soul will be rewarded with timeless humour, subtle updates and an uproarious evening as the worst of human nature—generously sugarcoated with all manner of mirth, cross-dressing and buffoonery—is subtly brought to light for those who care to face la vérité. For the rest, it’s an evening of silliness and yuks.
Though a large cast and crew are required to put the show on the boards in front of Brampton’s seat of government, the success of the night sits squarely on the shoulders of Peter Van Wart’s superb depiction of the hapless steward, Malvolio, and director Rod Ceballos’ brilliantly balanced mix of bawdy, physical humour and the crushing cruelty meted on the weak by drunken, lecherous bullies.
Plays don’t get more universal than that.
Van Wart puts his impressive range of emotions, delivery and body language through the mill. Subservient and loyal in the early going, hopelessly shackled with love for his mistress, Olivia (Claire Reid, marvellously innocent but lacking the hint of savvy-below-the-surface), then viciously duped. Noble drunkards Sir Toby Belch (Adrian Churchill cobbles together a convincing boozer—think Tevye with an addiction to five-star sherry), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Andrew Clegg, whose primal screams get one chorus too many, yet the “Rocky” fight sequence rekindles the funny bone long after the fact) and the conniving forger Maria (Lynne Griffin, who makes the stage grin with every entrance).
Fooled into sporting “yellow stockings … and cross-gartered” (wondrously rendered by costumer Alex Amini in his homage to Payne Stewart) the lovesick Malvolio makes a complete ass of himself even as he thrusts his “greatness” unabashedly towards his aghast intended.
Ceballos lets his able troupe rev up the laughs: each scene is broader than the last. Lurking in the narrative weeds are identical twins in their grey flannel suits. Viola (Katherine McLeod, whose thoughtful looks speak volumes) disguises as a man and becomes the go-between for her master, Orsino (ever-steady Trevor Martin) and his uncooperative infatuation, also Olivia. Viola’s brother, Sebastian (Colin Edwards) seems blissfully unaware of the depths (or nature) of love emanating from his rescuer Antonio (spot-on angst from Tim MacLean). He happily submits to Olivia’s advances: she—no doubt—more than relieved to ferret out what awaits her in the identical sibling’s trousers on their wedding night (you have to be there!).
Gluing the deceits of the privileged class together is the buck-begging fool (er, Yankee, that is—this production is chock-a-block full of “gangstahs,” fedoras and even a Southern fundamentalist preacher) Feste. Terry Wells delivers his lines with panache, but—despite the enthusiastic cajoling of Mike Gauthier’s stylish guitar accompaniments—can’t find a tune to save his life. More fool we.
The crucial late-act return of Malvolio is a tricky bit of business. Here’s where the director and cast combine to ignite an emotional payoff that tragically morphs the fun-loving party animals into heartless oppressors which provide the world with much of its real-time grief daily. Van Wart’s bedraggled entry—his garish stockings soiled and dishevelled from being locked up in a dank dungeon—elicits a few chuckles in the expectation by some that there is more humiliation to come. But the laughing stock’s visage—spectacularly pathetic—soon stifles the guffaws from audience and fellow actors alike. By playing much of the preceding scenes large and loud, Ceballos—most certainly aided and abetted by the Bard’s subtext-rich lines—gambles that his charges can turn the tide from tears-in-your-eyes funny, to guilt-in-your-hearts truth. He succeeds.
The proof is in Malvolio’s exit and last-gasp vow for revenge “on the whole pack of you.” As the planet knows only too well, getting even for insults real or imagined continues to be the bane of human existence. The sequel plays continuously to packed battlefields everywhere. JWR