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vancouverplays review


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— Rachel Cairns. Photo by David Cooper

By William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Vanier Park
June 12-Sept. 14
$25-$43 or 604-739-0559

Only five years ago Bard on the Beach opened its season with Twelfth Night, and here we go again. But it’s easy to see why artistic director Christopher Gaze thinks this play is such a winner. Cross-dressed Viola woos Lady Olivia on behalf of Duke Orsino; Olivia falls for Viola (in the guise of Caesario) and Viola falls for Orsino. Meanwhile, Olivia’s household is full of classically funny, foolish characters: Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch, conceited steward Malvolio, and Feste the Fool. Romance, gender confusion, wit, broad comedy, and some fine dramatic poetry. What’s not to like?

Like the 2008 Roaring Twenties version directed by David Mackay, Dennis Garnhum’s production is set in the early 20th century. Nancy Bryant’s costumes and Pam Johnson’s scenery suggest the world of Noel Coward: see Orsino and friends in their tennis whites! But there’s little resemblance else. In 2008 Lois Anderson was a rather mature, self-assured Viola. Here, Rachel Cairns’ Viola seems about sixteen. She’s fresh, tentative and charming but lacks texture, especially in contrast to Jennifer Lines’ lovesick Olivia and Todd Thomson’s hunky Orsino. Viola’s twin, Sebastian, played by Daniel Doheny, also looks like (and probably is just) a kid. So we’ve got a couple of October-May romances going on here, which is kind of fun.

Mackay’s comedy was wildly, unashamedly vaudevillian, led by Ryan Beil’s nutty Sir Andrew, spinning hilariously around the gull Malvolio, played with a dark, sinister, foolish dignity by Andrew Wheeler. Garnhum’s Sir Andrew, Richard Newman, is more restrainedly funny, a dotty schlemiel, playing off Bill Dow’s energetic Sir Toby and Naomi Wright’s scheming Maria.

Allan Zinyk is Malvolio here, in a great comic performance. Watch what he does with one of Shakespeare’s funny little smutty lines, as Malvolio imagines himself Olivia’s wealthy husband, “playing with my—some rich jewel” right around his crotch. In most productions of the play this is a one-off gag. Zinyk’s Malvolio fondles his “jewel,” points it out to the audience, fondles it again—then returns to it later in the play and gets five or six good laughs in all. It’s just one example of Zinyk’s wonderful comic gift (with some credit to director Garnhum).

Zinyk would steal the play if it weren’t for Jonathon Young as the Fool. Young is not a natural clown, but he has such likable presence that it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s on stage. His Feste is lithe, graceful, playful and wise.  

One highlight of this production is a scene in which Viola, disguised as Caesario, comes to deliver a message from Olivia to Orsino. Garnhum sets the scene in a steam room with Orsino and his boys—and Viola, too—covered only in towels. On his exit Orsino drops his towel, so smitten Viola gets to see his ass. So does the audience. Then the other guys drop their towels. “Now we’re talking,” enthused my wife Sue.

One lowlight is the sucky music, which not only accompanies a number of lame songs throughout the show, but swells to a sentimental cinematic crescendo to underline dramatic moments—as if we couldn’t figure out for ourselves what we’re supposed to feel. Garnhum and sound designer Jeremy Spencer deserve equal blame for this. But Spencer wins back quite a few points for the inconspicuous clarity of the actors’ amplified, mic’d voices.

Jerry Wasserman