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Theater Review: If CAST Be the Food of Joy, Play On!

Cambridge University Undergrads Present Fine Entertainment with ...Twelfth Night...

By Nivair H. Gabriel

“Twelfth Night”

Cambridge University American Stage Tour

La Sala de Puerto Rico

Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 10 at 2 p.m.

“Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s cutest and most lighthearted comedies — full of his characteristic bawdy jokes, cheeky misunderstandings, and foolishly optimistic lovers. In the Cambridge University American Stage Tour’s presentation, the play became even smaller and more self-contained; since the company contains only nine players, director Victoria Scopes removed the character of Fabian and used her actors for multiple roles. With a stylish yet minimalist set and undergraduates with professional experience, CAST’s “Twelfth Night” was a joy to behold.

The company fit together as well as any family; after spending ten months on the work, the cast and crew produced a thoroughly polished performance. Though I’d merely skimmed the play — and that years ago — each actor used pantomime and inflection with such skill that I never once glanced at the synopsis. Each of the nine undergraduates had a unique energy: most notable were Rebecca Pitt as Viola, Dan Martin as Malvolio, and Thomas Yarrow as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Pitt showed the perfect mix of sensitivity and guts; her final reunion with brother Sebastian (Robert Cumming) and engagement to Duke Orsino (Spencer Hughes) tugged even the most callous and apathetic of heartstrings. As comic relief in the form of Malvolio, Martin adopted both hilarious mannerisms and a tragically misguided officiousness so touching I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as I laughed. Straight out hilarity, however, could be found in Yarrow’s Sir Andrew — from the moment he walked onstage, I was both amazed by his presence and helplessly amused at his loud, gawky, and drunken lordship. As with any fine Shakespeare production, it is the acting, unvarnished and impressive, that led this show to greatness.

Supporting characters added essential flavor. When Duke Orsino (Spencer Hughes) composed his umpteenth love letter to Olivia (Laura Bates), the audience thrilled to his commanding presence and easy, humorous delivery. Indeed, each actor excelled with his respective monologues, never losing my attention and nearly always making the words understandable and relevant. Only a few brief cases of slurring or monotony occurred, and offender Phil O’Farrell more than made up for it with his musical prowess as lute-player Feste and his sweet portrayal of devotion in Antonio. The drunken duo of Sir Toby Belch (Ade O’Brien) and Sir Andrew made for not only English humor but hilarious French jokes, which because of the brilliant comedic performances were just as funny to people who didn’t understand the foreign language. It’s unfair to give extra credit for English accents, but knowing that they weren’t faked did add a flair that served as the final icing on the cake.

Scopes designed the production to explore the rift between old text and modern interpretations. The old-fashioned, gorgeous costumes and movable, simple set were a perfect example: the many moving walls were decorated as pages of the original folios, and even the costumes’ rich ruffles and bows had unusually bright contrasts. This “Twelfth Night” had an endearing intimacy; watching the actors themselves move set pieces in dim light made the entire undertaking seem like an exciting project in which the audience, too, was involved.

MIT received a special gift last weekend with this cheerful, edifying, and exceptionally entertaining “Twelfth Night”. Thank you, CAST, and please come again.