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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Twelfth Night’


Woodward Shakespeare Festival struggles a little with “Twelfth Night,” which opened the company’s fourth season last weekend. It’s easy to guess why: This hard-working theater company has had a lot on its plate recently, most prominently a well-publicized move from the Woodward Park amphitheater to a more intimate space at the park’s group activities area. That move required building a temporary stage and arranging the basics of lighting and sound design in an outdoor space, all from scratch.

There’s a lot of heart on display in this earnest production — and some nice theatrical moments as well. But in terms of the company’s body of work, “Twelfth Night” is not in the top tier. I trust that as the company gets more comfortable with the logistics of its new performing space, it will have more time to focus on the nitty-gritty of performing Shakespeare.

The strongest element in this “Twelfth Night,” directed by Lars Thorson, is a focused group of women. Casey Ballard’s Viola, the shipwrecked twin who disguises herself as a man, has some fine moments as she eases into Shakespeare’s silly cross-dressing plotline. Her scenes with Gabriela Lawson, as Olivia — the noblewoman who has fallen in love with “Cesario,” who is Viola in disguise — have a nice zip and romantic crackle. (Both are pictured above.) When they’re on stage together, the production moves past a mere recitation of text and into the realm of theater. They come closest to fulfilling this play’s great potential for romance.

Also quite strong — if just from sheer enthusiasm and physical dedication — are the two “fools” of the production, Feste (Renee Newlove) and Fabian (Guinevere Thelin). These roles usually are played by men, but Thorson’s decision to cast women works well, especially within the gender-bending conceit of the play. Newlove, decked out in an amusing fez, pumps out a bawdy and raucous performance, and if she occasionally plays it a little too over-the-top, that’s a minor sin for a clown. I always felt as if Newlove really understood her text, which is a quality that is essential. Thelin is in some ways even more of a natural comedic talent on stage — pumping her little fists in aggravation, relishing her role as spitfire — and consistently getting the laughs. Michelle Ramirez, as the gentlewoman Maria, has some nice moments as well.

Of the men in the cast, S. Eric Day — as the uncouth Sir Toby Belch — connects best with his character. His grumpy, slovenly take is a consistent highlight. Other performances are uneven: either too clenched (as in the case of the other twin, Sebastian, played by Victor Sandoval) or scattered (Ben McNamara’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek). I was most put off by the Malvolio story line (Olivia’s steward, played by Stephen Torres), which to me just didn’t work, starting with the monklike costume and ending with a buffoonish portrayal that seemed at odds with the snobbish, wannabe aristocratic bent of the character.

Overall, there were aspects of the opening-night performance that were underprepared in terms of blocking and comic timing. Thorson adds choreographed stage movement both at the beginning and the end of the show, but, again, these interludes lacked confidence and precision.

As far as the new space at the group activities center, which the company has dubbed the Theater in the Glen, goes: It’s wonderful. Yes, there were problems with the almost non-existent lighting (the dimness actually hurt my eyes) and the sound, but I thoroughly enjoyed the forestlike setting, which is much more intimate than the concrete expanse of the amphitheater. I like the relationship between audience and stage, and the expanse of grass makes all the difference in terms of ambiance. (And likely heat as well.) I know that I’m looking forward to “Hamlet” in August.

Responses to "THEATER REVIEW: ‘Twelfth Night’"

Congratulations to our friends at WSF on their production of Twelfth Night. We look forward to seeing it. vlb.

Bulldog Fan says:

This review is very kind. Munro is right about the lighting and sound problems. I saw this production on opening night and found it close to intolerable.

Renee N says:

Donald, thank you for your continued support!

eric doyle says:

I liked this show. I was also there on opening night and there were technical issues, but I thought the acting was good and it was a pleasant evening. All of Woodward’s shows have a mixed bag of experienced and inexperienced actors, and Donald picking on the younger men was a tad unfair, but I thought most of the cast knew what they were doing and were having a good time. My wife and I plan on going back to this show later in run — partially because we have friends who would enjoy it, and partially to see if Woodward really does get their technical problems sorted out. I don’t understand Donald being so harsh on this, and other smaller company shows in Fresno, and then give Good Company Players a free pass on some of their shows which we have walked out on. Maybe it’s the better production values, but the colleges have those and he has no problem slamming them. I guess I’m a philistine and don’t understand what good theatre is.

Chris Campbell says:

Donald, we agree that the new space is wonderful but the move has been more traumatic than I ever expected. The parks department has been very supportive and tremendously helpful in our efforts to move to the new space. Unfortunately, communication issues with City Hall put us about two weeks behind in getting the venue together. In addition, the large event on Saturday June 28 forced us to open on the 26th without the full sound system installed as we had to keep space available for their tables. The sound will be resolved for this week but we cannot do much more with the lighting until we have electric power. It is budgeted and approved but waiting on General Services to schedule installation. If anyone can convince them how great it would be to have better lighting early in the run we would really appreciate it. Chris Campbell WSF Technical Director

Chris Campbell says:

We were able to add some lighting last night so the dimness problem should be resolved.

Claire says:

Ack, how frustrating Chris!

Lisa taber says:

I saw “Twelfth Night” on Thursday last and was disappointed. Not with the new venue–it was lush and inviting and much cooler than the concrete of the amphitheater. I was not disappointed with with the acting, sound, or lights, but in the obvious lack of structure or direction.

Mr. Thorson calls “Twelfth Night” Shakespeare’s most romantic play. I saw no hint of romance. There was little chemistry between any of the actors in the quadrangle (Olivia/Orsino/”Cesario”/Sebastian). I would have liked the director to have taken more time to develop those relationships.

As with all of WSF’s productions, the actors run the gamut in terms of experience. This production has seasoned veterans like S. Eric Day and Gabi Lawson, who were able to hold their own. Other members of the cast were obviously just trying to keep their heads above water. Some actors were completely miscast and had a difficult time getting a handle on their characters. I have worked with Steve Torres in four Theatre Ventoux productions and know that he is a talented and capable artist, who gets better with each show. I don’t know why Mr. Thorson chose to cast him as Malvolio and not give him the direction and support he needed to interpret this pivotal character.

Several actors, including Casey Ballard and Reneee Newlove were working their hearts out the entire time they were onstage. Again, it would have been nice to have seen some directorial support, which would have lifted their performances to a different level.

In all, I agree with Donald that this production is not in the top tier of WSF’s body of work. I am not discouraged, however, and look forward to “Hamlet.”

Ginger Latimer says:

I attended this past Saturday night’s show, and the lighting was fine, except when I left to find my car!….that’s a bit scary. Sound glitches were common..
In my opinion, the women dominated the show. Both Viola and Olivia were the strongest performances. Maria had some nice moments..I questioned some of the casting. Although quite talented, Sir Andrew appeared much too young to team with Eric Day…..and Malvolio also needed to be a stuffy, snobbish wannabe. Costuming there could have helped. Sebastian didn’t fit his role…character work may have made a difference…
Having directed this show, I was looking forward to the music with Sir Toby, Andrew, and Feste.(Act.2 sc 3)..with a round, “Hold thy Peace”…director might have “choreographed” this scene a bit…Feste needed an instrument…
finally, there’s so much more that could be done with the set!…..
All in all…I took 9 students, and they all had a good time. I appreciate the tenacity of WSF, but just want more substance….
We’ll be anxious to see HAMLET../.

Darnell says:

As a big fan of summer Shakespeare shows, I look forward to the WSF each summer. I agree with DM that this year’s comedy won’t be remembered as one of their best, but I hope it brings people out on the warm summer nights. I saw the play during the second week of its run and while entertaining, I felt like I was seeing a dress rehearsal.

Things I liked include the new venue. Being nestled in the trees is much more pleasant for Shakespeare in the park than the old Rotary stage. Improvements to the stage could (and should) be made in the future to accommodate the setting. With the audience on a flat plane (and with some attendees on blankets) depth and heights and angles on the stage can be adjusted in the future to improve the view. And some reinforcement is in order to dampen the echoing of footfalls. Still, this is a place where families and friends can gather to enjoy the show. The acting was fine, with some groups (the women) doing better than others. And some individual performances were almost notable, but the company on the whole did fine. By the time I saw it, they had fixed the lighting that others had found dim.

Of the things I did not like, the list is topped by the sound. Once again, WSF treats the sound as an afterthought. I can’t figure out if there is some idiotic purist element on the board that thinks showing a speaker is unfaithful to the Bard or if getting the sound wrong springs some other inadequacy. Get people in who know what they are doing and fix it. Stop blaming cell phone interference. When it is a consistent problem that actors come on stage, deliver several lines before their mikes are turned on, it is not an interference problem. These are missed cues, plain and simple. If this was an interference problem, mikes would remain on longer than they should, which doesn’t happen. Equipment that is designed to work outdoors is available. Get it and get good people to operate it.

Also on the list of things I didn’t like with this show was the amateurish direction. Even if there was a good sound system, having major segments of dialog presented while the actors are in bear hugs is questionable considering the outdoor venue. The blocking could have been improved and I am sure the timing will improve with each performance. These are the parts that made me feel like I was seeing a rehearsal, not a developed show. Problems with the second tier of characters could have been either acting or direction. They missed a chance to link Andrew with the British theater’s long tradition of wonderful “flaming� characters. There were some glimpses of those wonderful limp wrist characters from Blackadder or Monty Python, but they petered out for Andrew and similarly for other characters. The costuming was adequate, but uneven. That some costumes were much more elaborate than others was a little distracting. The yellow stocking costume didn’t satisfy the build up. And please, stop the pre-show lecture.

Even with these less desirable elements, it was still fun to be outdoors watching Shakespeare. 2007’s Taming of the Shrew set the bar for WSF comedies pretty high. Someday it will be surpassed, but not this year.

alex says:

I also found it difficult to hear what the actors were saying. I went on 4th of july because I figured most people would be out celebrating the bulldogs or independence, since I don’t like crowds. The fireworks being set off in the park… or really close to the park… got very distracting at one point, not that that was the actors fault. The peacocks were very pretty to see walking around the fence, but their calls got very distracting. There was also a helicopter overhead at one point. On top of all this, it seems like the microphones kept going in and out, and… I don’t know if it was me, but whenever a few of them turned their head… you couldn’t really hear them at all. I read the play in my english class last semester, so I knew what was going on, but I think a lot of the jokes weren’t as funny because I couldn’t hear them. There was some feedback a couple of times, one time especially that hurt my ears. I know that the fireworks and peacocks and helicopters weren’t the actors problems, but it still made it very hard for me to understand what looked like a fun show. And I agree about the lighting… I think I nearly died getting back to my car that night :) .

I can’t wait to see Hamlet, and hope the peacocks stay a little quieter!


jamie says:

dang, y’all are harsh on this show. i saw it last night and it had some problems, but for community theatre in 110 degree heat i thought they did pretty well. i felt great chemistry between orsino and viola but i guess if they dont rip each others clothes off folks dont get it. i’ve just moved to fresno from austin and i don’t get the bitchiness of the theatre folk here. lisa is mad that her friend steve got a bad review so she blames the director. couldnt be steve’s fault, he’s “talented.” maybe he wasn’t well suited for the part. maybe it was too hard for him. maybe he didnt connect with the other actors. nope, all the director’s fault. and darnell disses andrew because he isn’t played as a swish, as if that’s the only way to play it. the kid was too young for the part but he was trying and had some funny moments. audience liked him. i sure wouldnt have wanted to direct that group of actors. mr munro’s review was fair, although i thought he was trying to straddle the fence a little too hard. and support for his opinions was sorely lacking. i see why my friends call fresno a bush league theatre town.

ron says:

great show. my wife and i loved it. thanks woodward shakes for bringing fresno some decent, affordable shakespeare. : )

Lisa Taber says:

Well, dang, Jamie! First of all, welcome to Fresno! Second, Allow me to retort.

I was a member of WSF during its inaugural season, performing in both “Much ado About Nothing” and “Romeo and Juliet.” I have also seen the majority of the productions staged by WSF in the seasons since. Compared with other productions, TN doesn’t cut it. The acting is fine, but the job of a director (one I have taken on myself in my theatre company), is to lead his or her cast helping each actor shape his or her character and guide them to their best performances. Unfortunately, with all of his degrees and credentials, Mr. Thorson dropped the ball.

As for your comment about my “friend” Steve, you are way off the mark. When I speak of Steve Torres, I speak of him as an actor first and foremost; the fact that he is a friend is incidental. My comments regarding is talent are ones I stand behind completely, as I do my comment that he was miscast in the role. I have spoken to him since I saw his performance, and he told me his character is being well received and he’s getting great feedback from the audience. What this tells me is that Steve, not his director has found a way to make Malvolio work.

Finally, your friends call Fresno a “bush league theatre town?” Well, I have a challenge for you. Two great shows are coming up this fall: ART is staging the “Rocky Horror Show” in late October and our company, Theatre Ventoux, is presenting “the Glass Menagerie” in late Sept-early October. Put your money where your mouth is, come see these shows, then let’s discuss.

jamie says:

dang lisa, i thought i was done blogging when you had to contradict yourself AND betray your own arrogance. 1st. how can it be the director’s fault if folks like mr munro didnt like your friend steve’s work, but all to his credit if audiences did liked him? last time i checked, theatre is collaborative. equal credit equal blame. neither of us were at rehearsals so who’s to know. now if steve told you this director was an a-hole or had his head up his butt (and so many directors do) then tell us so we know where you’re coming from. 2nd. now i’m sure you’re joan littlewood reincarnated but don’t “challenge” me to come see YOUR shows because they will be so much better than this. THAT is bush league. Finally, I apologize to the theatre community here for rushing to judgement. i’ve only seen 3 shows since coming to town — glengarry, annie get your gun and 12th — and while they were all pretty weak (is s. eric day’s hamfisted, fake voice acting style considered good here?), i shouldnt disparage the entire community. i hear the rogue fest is cool.

well, dang, jamie, we never betray our arrogance; in fact, we’re pretty damned proud of it, and always happy to put it on display (especially after a few glasses of a nice chardonnay.) do we contradict ourselves? yeah, probably, mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa. or not, we might have just been trying to make a distinction between what the actor does and what the director does. perhaps we failed; it’s a new low, we’re so ashamed. we’ll try to do better next time. joan littlewood is a tad left wing for us, but speaking of bush league, thanks for the wonderful illustration of the ad hominem attack. sweet. as for the challenge, well we put that out there to get you to come and see the show, not because we think it’s all that much better than everything else in town (though, of course, we do…just like everyone else tends to think that they’re work is better. etc. etc., etc. and that’s what makes us all strive to be even better but that’s another ramble) but because you seem to have strong opinions and a sense of what you like; we like that. it makes us happy. we also like your fifteen bucks. oh, and donald…thanks for keeping the chatter going; as you well know, it’s all about da buzz! final thought: there’s a lot of crap in town, there’s a lot of great in town, and there’s everything in between. mostly, though, there’s a lot of people with a real passion for theatre, and none of us is curing cancer…so VLB to us all!

maggie says:

People seem to have a lot to say about this show. I saw it tonight and wanted to get other opinions so I hopped on the hive. I thought it was well done. Some bad acting and a dreadful set, but Casey Ballard plays the dual male/female thing well and she sings beautifully. And Guenevere Thelin who plays Fabian is terrific. A little banty rooster having fun and acting in the moment. I guess I was just happy to see Shakespeare done straight. Call me old fashioned but I get tired of people thinking that they can improve upon Shakespeare with their own concept or adaptation. Last year’s frentic SHREW by Woodward cheapened the play’s poetry and was rarely funny, and while I love RICHARD II, the FLATTERING GLASS just seemed pretentious. I am looking forward to seeing HAMLET.

Ginger Latimer says:

Some great theatre person said that theatre was meant to provoke…Kind of fun that there are enough theatre people here in the valley, that mud is flying….
I teach high school theatre, and when I did THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, a superior court judge, on leaving the theatre, stopped and noted, while scratching his head,”I gotta go home and read this”…maybe he was provoked….Keep it comin’…….

Bulldog Fan says:

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that thought this show was miserable. I was glad to see the technical director say that the lighting issues had been resolved. But, it appears that the audience still doesn’t think so.

Hopefully they don’t botch Hamlet like they did Twelfth Night.

heather says:

I saw the show Saturday night and enjoyed it thoroughly. Whatever their problems were when Donald saw it, I think they’ve resolved them. It was a fun show with great costumes. The females were stronger than the males, but some of those males were babies. The lighting was not great, but I could see the actors and that’s all I care about. Now the sound issues are significant but this company always has sound issues. Do we have to have microphones? I hope the actors in this show aren’t discouraged by the bad blogger reviews.

Renee N says:

Heather, don’t worry… we understand that everyone has their opinions and any negativity will not stop us actors from giving it our best out on that stage for every audience member (even while knowing we cannot please everyone). The show must (and will, thankfully) go on!

Gregory says:

amen, amen, and amen. VLB, renee!

Steve Marchand says:

I enjoyed the show and thought everyone involved did a great job, but I’m just a theatregoer so what do I know? But what is up with the city or the parks dept. scheduling a country music concert on the same day as the show? Are they that greedy? You could hear the music throughout the performance and I admire the performers for continuing to do their best. The city or parks dept. should be ashamed. But here in Fresno where bureaucratic greed and self serving is king, should we be surprised? I didn’t think so.

Ginger says:

The reality is we’ve made great strides to enlighten our central valley. Many more people can name all 37 Shakespeare plays…Bureaucracies will continue to look at the bottom line, but the devout will continue to climb over the logs in the road. It’s better, and tenacity will prevail..

Patty says:

I just wanted to let you know that I think you were on the generous side, giving this Production an easy ride. I was extremely disappointed in the show. There were so many problems with the show (performance and direction). To blame the reason for a bad show on the move from the Woodward Park amphitheater to the new, is just an excuse!!!! The director is the one to blame. He has NOOO idea what Shakespeare wrote and what the play is about. I can not express how many comedic, humanistic, staging, irony and themes were missed by Lars Thorson. The Shakespeare Company (Festival) should really be careful and pick performers/directors etc… to improve their vision and goal year to year. I understand they have to use local players, interns, etc…, but the cast, apart from Eric Day and Gabriela Lawson, were very green and pretty annoying to watch. The Company had done a decent job last year and because of it, I had greater expectations. I hope this show does not turn away spectators and sponsors from future shows. I will keep rooting for the local arts, but I really hope the company really does not lose sight in what they want to achieve.

Ed says:

This thread just gets more interesting every day. I guess Patty is a theatre expert and I’m just an English teacher (Watch your grammar Patty). I thought this show was superior to last year’s dullasdirt Othello and the equal to the Shrew which was “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Blaming the director for green actors is unfair. I thought Eric Day and Gabriela Lawson were two of the weakest performers. Day overacts and Lawson’s hands on hips schoolmarm is a million miles away from Olivia. I can blame Thorson allowing her to take that tact, but this show had so many technical problems (unfinished set, terrible mics) and environmental problems (noise from the amphitheatre) that blaming it all of the director seems ludicrous. I am looking forward to Hamlet and hope Woodward will keep putting on shows. It is a shame that so many people use blogs like this to spout their opinions. I wonder how many of them have tried to act? Or direct? Or even explain Shakespeare to high school students? God love you Don for having this blog. I don’t envy your having to read such vitriolic tripe.

john c. says:

what do people expect? it’s free. are the actors paid? doubt it. what do people expect? woodward park is a long way from central park.

Lisa Taber says:

“Vitriolic tripe?” I have to remember that one. Though, and I am only a fourth-grade teacher, I think “dullasdirt” is three words. It’s underlined in red as I write.

Seriously, though, this blog is a great forum for the expression of opinions, and I believe it was created for this purpose. Otherwise, why allow comments (which have to be approved by the blog owner/author before posting).

Ed, your post is another example of the ad hominem argument; why is it necessary to attack the author rather than stick to the blog topic?

As far as the experience of the writers, I can only speak for myself and my husband, who comprise Theatre Ventoux. Greg holds a BFA in Acting from USC and is an English teacher, like you, who has been able to make Shakespeare come alive for students for nearly 20 years. While I have no formal training in theatre, I have acted in a dozen plays in this community, including four Shakespeare productions. Between the two of us, Greg and I have produced and directed each of Ventoux’s first-season shows. I”m not certain how much clout that gives us in terms of speaking our minds on this forum, but it does give us a frame of reference.

As far as t;he other theatre-goers who have commented on “12th Night,” they can share their opinions as much as you or I.

Patty says:

First of all, I love Fresno and brag/defend it always… specially the Theatre. My intentions are not to bash TN, but to be honest about the show in order for something to be done about it and, thus, keep the WSF alive. No point of sugar coating… nothing progresses that way. A Theatre expert? No. However, I do pride myself of having a BA in Acting and having the pleasure studying Shakespeare under the RSC in England, at RADA. Having been in Hollywood, studying, auditioning and acting, does give me a little frame of reference. As you might remember, Shakespeare wrote from the Theatre for the Theatre. Having the Globe next to Bull-bating arenas, people protesting the theatre on the outside and dealing with the Groundlings, the Players did deal with a lot of outside noise that was beyond their control. The WS Company, should remember that, and embrace the unexpected and in doing so, their performance will excel.
I do agree, Day and Lawson are not the greatest actors, but do have a good grasp on the language. No one in the Cast followed the iambic-pentameter. Director should have enforced it more as it would have helped some of the greener actors. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action�.
Being a free show, non-paid actors, etc… does not give anyone a free ride to be underachievers. These actors chose to be here because, hopefully, their passion for the Theatre and as a stepping stone for higher academia. However, I do appreciate and give all the Actors, Crew, etc… credit for keeping their pledge, commitment to the play, despite our feedback. Maybe, I’m not the best at giving constructive criticism, but being out in the real world of the industry, Truth is by far better than being nice.
Again, I hope Fresno and the rest of the community do not get discouraged from supporting WSF. Best wishes… oops, break a leg!!!!
I will continue to brag about Fresno’s Theatre… Keep striving for greatness!!!

Edwin Johannson says:

I was trained as an actor and was taught that you should look at the meter, but never be a slave to it. If your lines come out as sing-sing, you’re dead.


Pro: Casey (?) does an excellent job of playing the Viola/Cesario role. She is gamine and funny and natural.

The actor playing Orsino, sorry I lost my program, at least makes the character interesting. He is pretty over the top but this role is so often dull that I was happy to see some life to him. He seemed to have great chemistry with Viola/Cesario.

The young man who plays Sebastian is natural and speaks the verse very well. He is at least a decade too young for their Olivia, but he has a nice spark.


All of the design and tech inclyuding the costumes which were pretty but did not fit a unified concept (to my mind anyway).

The prologue seemed forced. As if the director was afraid the audience wouldn’t get it, so he grafted this prologue onto the play. We are not that dumb (I hope).

The actress playing Olivia had no sex appeal and never made contact with her fellow performers. She seemed to be acting in a vaccuum.

The actress playing Maria was very one note. Someone needed to help her find some variety in her voice and movements. Again, no sex appeal at all.

ellen m. says:

Great show. I see lots of people had problems with it, but I enjoyed it tremendously. For the first time in my 20 years of reading and studying Shakespeare, I got it the first time out. I’m not saying it was always funny or the actors were the greatest, but I had never read or seen the play before and I understand it easily. Thanks cast and crew! Don’t let the petty bitter people on this blog get you down. You rock!!

Francis Cahill says:

I’m tempted not to comment after reading the above–amazing diversity in opinions! I have been watching theater with great focus and study for years and I’ve never seen better than Gabriela Lawson(Oliva). She stood way out and made the whole seem professional. She’s a excellent stage actress and beautiful as well.