Dead playwrights can expect to have their work manhandled by succeeding generations, but no thing that ever lived deserves the thrashing Shakespeare is receiving from the Leverett House Drama Society. Their production of Twelfth Night is, alas, a graceless botch.
Setting the play inside an insane asylum, with the actors as a palsied herd of flustered souls, is the first and most grievous wrong. It is a commonplace of Shakespearean criticism to say that some of the characters in Twelfth Night act so cruel that they seem insane, but that is no license to turn the play into a cut-rate Marat-Sade. To interpret the play that way is to say, "Be calm, audience, real people are nice. You have to be bonkers to be vicious." The audience should not be allowed to rest so easy.
This passion to explain away problems in the play, this etiological fetish, produces a tortured prologue in which it is learned that Viola was raped by her pirate captor and her brother forced to look on. From this their madness.
There is very little acting and no detectable direction in the production. Some care has been taken to slather the actors with pastes suitable to their sordid states, but why was no hair mussed? I like the way the girls wear their hair, and hope that they continue wearing it off-stage so, but nuts just aren't that tidy. Something should also be done about Sherry Turkle's legs, which are quite pleasantly pink. Miss Turkle plays the maid Maria, in this production a septuagenarian cackler. Of course I don't begrudge her her pink legs, but it just isn't fitting.
Carol Swanger as Olivia would probably be charming in a straight production; here she is an actress with almost no one to speak to. David Scondras as Malvolio (his hair is disarranged) is a natural comic, but he is a bedraggled sad sack, and Malvolio is not. Robert MacDonald might be able to act if he didn't have to concentrate on sounding as though he were being strangled. Terry Lautz as the fool Feste sings with the mysteriously sweet voice one associates with revelations by deep mountain pools.
The stage in the Old Library is a pleasant piece of invention: a rectangular space with risers to the left for the Duke's palace and risers to the right for Olivia's habitation. Unfortunately the cast is forever surging back and forth across mid-stage, drawing our attention from one house to the other with no purpose.