Sunday, February 25, 2018

12th Night at the Shakes.

At the opening night performance of 12th Night by William Shakespeare, the director, Carolyn Howarth and the costume designer Jack Smith sat on stage for a pre-show chat. Carolyn explained that what we were about to see was an effort to present as historically accurate a production of the play as is possible. In Shakespeare's day there was no stage lighting, so the house lights never went dark. As an artist this was a real blessing. Electric candles hung from the ceiling to illuminate the space. They seemed to float magically as if in Harry Potter's Wizarding School.

In the day, a play could be seen for a penning which was also enough to buy an ale and some bread. For that price they would be a groundling, standing in front of the stage. More expensive cushioned seats were of course more. The church did not allow women to perform on stage, so this production is as well performed by all male actors.

The costumes by Jack smith were absolutely gorgeous. He spent time hand embroidering things right until the curtain opened. He did however praise the entire costume shop staff. Pink was a popular color for men in Shakespeare's day and the women preferred blues and teals. All of the costumes were lush, with highly researched detail. This has to be the most well crafted production I have seen in Orlando for a long time. In Shakespeare's day there were no sets, just a few benches and the expanses of the wooden stage. Most of the architectural elements of the previous production "Shakespeare in Love" like the arching ceiling joists, were left in place. At the end of Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth asked the young author to come up with something new "for 12th Night". It is believed that this play was first performed for Queen Elizabeth in 1602.

The play began with a foppish Shakespearean actor pounding his walking stick to the floor. The buzz of the audience silenced and the magic began. Shakespearean accents were a melting pot of Irish, Scottish, West Country and American and the actors were carefully coached to recreate the sound and flavor. The director joked that we might catch a flash of pirate in the accents as well. The acting was over the top and comical which seemed odd at first but then I grew to love each character.

The plot involves two shipwrecked twins who both believe the other to be dead. Viola (Thomas Leverton) dressed as her brother Sebastian (Austin Larkin). As a man, Viola is caught in a rather awkward love triangle. To avoid any spoiler alert, I'll just say that love finds a way in the end. Olivia (John P. Keller) who is mourning the death of her brother becomes infatuated with Viola who was sent by Orsino (Timothy Williams) with a message of love. Olivia's steward Malvolio (Jim Helsinger) had a hilarious performance. He was tricked into thinking that his Olivia was in love with him and his attempts at appearing happy were endearing and over the top hilarious. Sword fights were foppish and comical. honor being served by who surrendered first in terror. Throughout the show I was laughing out loud.

This show highly deserved the standing ovation. This is one of the most polished productions I have had the honor to enjoy and sketch. We left the theater glowing. Shakespeare's genius still shines bright 416 years later. For several hours we were magically transported back in time.

12th Night runs through March 23, 2018.
Twelfth Night runs approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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