Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 21, 2019

REVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox
“Shrew” runs through August 17, 2019
“Twelfth” runs through August 4, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Remember the Doublemint Gum ad of the 50’s and 60’s telling potential gum chewers that this terrific product in the green wrapper doubles your pleasure and doubles your fun?

In the case of Shakespeare & Company’s 2019 season, two of the Bard’s most familiar comedies are featured; i.e. “Twelfth Night” and “The Taming of the Shrew”. For those thinking about attending either or both plays, do not fear. These are among the most accessible in Shakespeare’s cannon of works.

Shakes & Co.’s campus is the site of several theatres, some indoors and some outdoors, with many plays happening simultaneously. Its actors are students, trainees, and professionals. Don’t be surprised if you see many of the actors employed in administrative work as well. These thespians are multi-talented.

"Shrew" photo by Zachary De Silva
Performing at The Dell, located on a lovely hilltop on the Edith Wharton Estate, is “The Taming of the Shrew”. Director Kelly Galvin takes Shakespeare’s romance of the foolishly coy Beatrice and Benedict to extreme buffoonery. Our heroes. We root for them, in spite of the obvious ending. All’s well that ends well in the Bard works. Basically, if no lead character is mangled, tortured, or dies, the story falls into the Comedy Classification.

With action at lightning speed, the comings and goings of the troupe never fail to delight the many children in the audience as well as their adult escorts. Every primary color of the rainbow brightens the characters and helps to define their moods. There is no reason to include Shakespeare’s “clowns” which refers to the oft-needed comic relief, as nearly all of the characters serve as clowns.

“Shrew” takes place on one of the outdoor theatres. All actors perform without amplification. I took the opportunity for a few moments to perform a little test. I was curious; just how far away could the audience hear every word? I walked as far back as the Stable’s Barn (another theatre venue and the rest stop for Wharton’s horses) and was able to clearly listen to each word of the play.

'Night" photo by Daniel Rader
Doubling your fun is “Twelfth Night” with the premise that twins (one Caucasian, one Black) are mistakenly identified as other characters, are unaware of the other’s existence, and fall in love with his/her prospective mates as fast as you can say, “Twelfth Night”. Most Shakespeare comedies follow this format: twins, mistaken identity, and the entire town is duped unbeknownst to everyone.

Allyn Burrows, Artistic Director of Shakes & Co. and director of the play, has taken full-on liberty with the set, music, lighting, and dance. This “Twelfth Night” has been placed in "a dance hall on a boardwalk by the sea," where the music is doo-wop and Motown, the dance is rock & roll, and the lighting is neon.

While the plot is rather boring and completely predictable, it is the music and dance that prevails in this comedy. Couple those factors with the four clowns (Steven Barkhimer at Sir Toby, Nigel Gore as Sir Andrew, Deaon Griffin-Pressley as Sebastian, Bella Merlin as Maria), and the play belongs to them.
Yet a few words about Miles Anderson as Malvolio, as the strait laced, snooty servant. Anderson’s first time at the Shakespeare & Co. theatres is stellar. He is bullied and ridiculed to the point that one might not agree that “Twelfth Night” is a comedy. That’s the way the Bard wrote the story.