Seen in Central Park: The surest sign of summer’s return to New York is new shows outdoors at the Delacorte Theatre. The Public Theater space has reopened its door with a new concession stand, Public Fare (try the peanut-butter-and-jelly cookies), and one of its liveliest and most festive productions, Twelfth Night. Shakespeare’s romantic comedy is one of his hardest to get right—a lot goes on in Illyria, what with its numerous mistaken identities and cross-dressings, and without the right cast or disciplined direction the whole play can lapse into numbing chaos. But Daniel Sullivan has thrust greatness, or at least very goodness, atop an inspired ensemble.
The key roles, of the shipwrecked Viola, her master the Illyrian duke Orsino (as she disguises herself as a male servant, Cesario, in her new land), and the countess Olivia, whom Orsino loves, are played, respectively, by Rachel Getting Married Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway, the gifted Raul Esparza, and four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald. All attractive performers, giving their all, but basically non-Shakespeareans. And their best efforts are all that’s required, as none dominate the complicated storyline, and each is offstage for scenes at a time. The clowns, who add the bamboozlement to the plot, do the heaviest lifting, and the stage is thick with experienced laugh-getters, including Tony winner Julie White as Olivia’s gentlewoman Maria, a corpulent Jay O. Sanders as Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, and Michael Cumpsty as Olivia’s self-regarding head steward, Malvolio. Somehow managing to steal the show, however, are Hamish Linklater at Belch’s foppish friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and David Pittu as Olivia’s jester, Feste. Pittu gets to sing most of a pleasantly folksy score contributed by the group Hem, but the leads join in a bit, too. It’s a generously appointed evening with, and under, the stars.
The last major production of Twelfth Night in New York, at Lincoln Center in 1998, had a classic, water-based design by Bob Crowley. Wisely, John Lee Beatty has gone for an earth motif, with Illyria imagined as rolling grassy hills for the actors to tumble down. The synthetic Astroturf look at dusk gives way to greater enchantment at night, courtesy of Peter Kaczorowski’s jeweled lighting, extending to the trees on the set. Acme Sound Partners has done customary crystalline work on the sound design in the theatre. Special mention must be made of Jane Greenwood’s opposite-of-Godot costumes, a series of funny-beautiful 18th century finery, and Tom Watson’s hair and wig design—which very convincingly twin Hathaway with Stark Sands, who plays Viola’s believed dead brother Sebastian. This delightful Twelfth Night plays, appropriately, through July 12; the Greek drama The Bacchae, directed by Joanne Akalaitis and scored by Philip Glass, begins a three-week run on Aug. 11.
Robert Cashill edited the other LD, Lighting Dimensions, Live Design’s predecessor, once upon a time. Today, Cashill is a freelance writer and editor for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek.com, Time Out New York, and Playbill.