Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Heathers The Musical
Now, I know what you're going to say: Shakespeare's dukes only come on at the beginning, and then come back again at the end, when everything gets tied up in a nice big bow. Right and right.
But still. The duke (actually the "Count of Illyria" here) also gets a scene in the middle of Twelfth Night (opposite the luminous and touching Vanessa Waggoner as Viola) in which he takes a bath on stage, which would certainly shake my composure, no matter how many rehearsals. And though all three of his scenes are fairly talky, Mr. Flores barely glanced at a sheaf of papers in his hand on Sunday during the third performance. It was, because of what we were told beforehand, a riveting performance.
Setting all that aside, Twelfth Night is still a very well-constructed comedy, and there are strong actors in all the right roles here. The complicated dialog drags some of them down after the intermission (I'm guessing there was a heavy lunch backstage, jammed in between the Bard's acts three and four), but nearly everything else works (sometimes hilariously), thanks to producer/director/company founder, and inventor of the spit-take, Donna Northcott.
Still, needing (and finding) that last minute replacement actor turned out to be a huge bonus, leaving us on the edge of our seats wondering how this newly minted college professor would survive all those long minutes out there, not just talking (and talking) but moving around, and going up and down a myriad of interestingly angled stair units... In fact he was (considering the challenge) virtually flawless by Sunday's matinee.
Who can they get this coming weekend, to go through that same ghastly on-stage ordeal, for our enhanced viewing pleasure?
Common sense tells us that Mr. Flores must keep the role, and the play has other strong points already. Jaime Zayas is fantastic as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, he of the indeterminate French-Spanish accent (or is it just a speech impediment?). And if you ever want to be reminded of how to recite Shakespeare without sounding like a stiff, just buy (British-born) Robert Ashton his lunch and hand him any random page from one of the folios. He's funny and theatrically reassuring as Toby, the dipsomaniac. Later they will be joined by Maxwell Knocke for a moment of true classic comedy in an eavesdropping scene just before the intermission.
Christopher LaBanca is good as their target Malvolio, lured into an embarrassing situation owing to some forged love letters. He could push it a little harder, though, in my opinion. Britteny Henry is delightful as the fool (and sings beautifully), coaxing Olivia (the very strong and clear and likable Elizabeth Knocke) out of a prolonged period of mourning. And Patience Davis does very nicely as Olivia's maid. Erik Kuhn makes for a fine accidental suitor to Ms. Knocke, and Don McClendon has reached a point of sublime self-assurance on stage, elegantly dangerous as Antonio.
But some of them just need to turn it loose (except for Mr. Zayas and Mr. Ashton, who are right where they ought to be), and to keep looking for more meaning in the second-half dialog. Otherwise, the very talented Mr. Flores will be well on his feet, leaving them all in a cloud of dust, in just a matter of days.
Through October 11, 2015, at the beautiful Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave. (between Loughborough and Gasconade, east of I-55). For more information visit www.stlshakespeare.org.
Cast in order of appearance
Artistic & Technical Personnel