Because the current American Shakespeare Center season (Twelfth Night, King Lear, Richard II, and Measure for Measure) is coming to a close and next week will be a busy one for me, I took the opportunity last night to return to the Blackfriars Playhouse to see Twelfth Night a second time. (I've already seen the other three shows twice each.)
It was a good crowd for a Wednesday night, since it was Thanksgiving Eve. Last week I was told that they had scheduled this comedy for holiday performances (the company is also doing a matinee of it on Friday) in order to appeal to families, and it did seem to me that there were a number of kids in the audience. In fact, there was a large family group seated right in front of me that appeared to be three generations. The youngest generation went up to occupy the gallant stools on one side of the stage: three little girls ranging in age from about three to six (although I'm not good judging ages). They were as cute as could be and they were equipped with snacks and drinks, and I wondered how they would handle the play once it got going. The pre-show entertainment was a good test, and they passed with flying colors. (James Keegan, who plays Toby Belch in the play, pretends to be drunk during the pre-show, and he had a brilliant ad lib. He pointed to the girls and said, "Is anyone else seeing triple?" Hah!). At some point fairly early in the play the youngest girl gave up and went to sit on various family laps, but the other two stayed the whole time and were frequently pulled into the action. That's pretty normal for this theater, but it seemed funnier and cuter because the girls were so small and adorable. At one point, Thomas Keegan was hiding behind one of the girls and did so by holding her on his lap. Thomas is a big guy, so that was funny enough, but then when it was his cue to move he got up and carried the girl with him, as if he'd forgotten she was there, only returning her to her seat as an "afterthought." Funny stuff, and of course the girls' family was eating it up. Too bad there's no photography allowed in the theater, but they'll remember this play for a long time.
Oh, right, the play. It was great. I loved it the first time, and loved it again. The staging is masterful and the performances are universally on target. John Harrell makes a great Malvolio, Alyssa Wilmoth is wonderful as Viola/Cesario, and the trio of Sir Toby Belch (James Keegan), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gregory Jon Phelps), and Fabian (Thomas Keegan) are all terrific, as is Sarah Fallon as Olivia, around whom the story really revolves.
And now I can look forward to the brief "Winter Season" (A Christmas Carol and The Santaland Diaries, plus three sneak peeks at the touring company's productions that will return in the Spring), followed by the ambitious "Actors' Renaissance Season" that begins in January.