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Monday, October 20, 2008

Review- Twelfth Night (T. Schreiber Studio)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

T. Schreiber Studio’s has truly become synonymous with not only having an excellent acting studio, but also creating pristine Off-Off Broadway productions of the highest caliber. This is certainly true of their current multi media presentation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Director Cat Parker helms this whimsical take on the bard’s famous comedy, setting it in a magical world rather than in a realistic context. Her aesthetic is that of Steampunk—which combines Victorian silhouettes with a science fiction motif. She has engineered the work—which follows a shipwrecked Viola (Jacqueline van Biene) as she dons a man’s apparel and name to traverse a new and unknown land—enhancing the role of the fool, Feste. Parker makes Feste (Matt Steiner) the central figure—imagining that he induced Viola and Sebastian's tempest at sea to invigor passion into Illyria. She also has Feste play other parts in the piece—enforcing his role as puppet master in this delightful farce.

Jacqueline van Biene & Andrea Marie Smith
photo credit: Gili Getz

Across the board, quality of production and acting seem to blend harmoniously in this must see production. Matt Steiner heads the cast as Feste with command of the language and awareness of his mission. This role is usually tricky for even the most practiced performer as Feste is a brilliant man who often “plays the fool” to reach his end. Many an actor has focused on either the light or dark of the character without capturing the full scope of his feisty genius. Steiner’s talent is amazingly apparent as he not only inhabits the role with ease, but takes on other parts as well—including the unforgettable Antonio. Following his lead, Jacqueline van Biene wraps her chops around Viola with grace and restraint. Ms. Biene does not fall into traps of tongue-in-cheek indication of her role reversal in trousers, but uses her voice and body naturally, creating a most likeable Viola. Matching her in wit and bravado is Andrea Marie Smith as the Lady Olivia. Olivia has lost her brother and thus banned men from her court. Viola sympathizes with her plight and disguised as a boy pleas for her to take in a suitor. The suitor in question of course is the handsome Duke Orsino (Shane Colt Jerome), with whom Viola has fallen in love.

Ms. Smith is darling as the jaded Olivia. Her journey from bitterness to love is exhilarating to behold. The scenes between Smith and Biene are fast paced and exciting. Olivia falls for Viola dressed as a boy, because she challenges her as an equal—not simply uttering love poems. Both ladies embody Shakespeare’s insight to the feminine mind beautifully. The play’s comic conclusion is driven by the fact that Viola’s brother Sebastian (Collin McGee) is indeed alive. His appearance leads to a mistaken identity farce that is tempered only by the much-valued honesty with which McGee plays his part.

Julian Elfer & Matt Steiner (screen)
photo credit: Gili Getz

Equally exciting are the actors filling out the side stories of the piece. Julian Elfer’s Malvolio—Olivia’s haughty and puritanical steward—is played to the hilt. Elfer’s journey into love, when he is tricked into believing Olivia loves him, is a laugh out loud riot. When he forces a smile at the end of this production’s first act, the audience is ripped off of their feet with laughter and applause. Sterling Coyne’s Sir Toby is boisterous and enlivening. Kudos also must go to Will Ellis for his charming Sir Andrew.

The only misstep in the cast is Shane Colt Jerome’s Duke Orsino. Jerome obviously understands the language but cannot yet translate the verse so that it flows honestly and comfortably. The well-written scenes between Viola and Orsino seem tedious because his poetry is so forced, although he physically embodies the form of a leading man effortlessly.

The impeccable copper set; crafted through the vision of designer George Allison is used well by Parker, creating many imaginative moments for the actors to use the space organically (including a clever tiled floor used as a giant crossword puzzle). There is a great deal of multi media in the form of video—used well to create the shore and different locations on Illyria. Wonderful contemporary music from Cloud Cult also adds to the modern meets classic milieu. The costumes, by Karen Ann Ledger, hit all of the right notes as well.

Overall a great success, this Twelfth Night is certainly a production that puts to shame many recent presentations of the piece. With vigor, excitement, and triumph, T. Schreiber Studios certainly proves that Shakespeare still appeals to young audiences and new interpretations.

T. Schreiber Studio presents
William Shakespeare's
Twelfth Night
Oct 9-Nov 23, 2008 (Thu-Sat @8pm; Sun @3pm)
The Gloria Maddox Theater

A suggested donation of $25.00 (Senior $20; General Student $22) is requested, and advance tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 212-352-3101.

The Gloria Maddox Theater | 151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor | Manhattan.

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