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The problem with repertory — if there's any problem at all with running two or more plays concurrently with the same cast — is that it’s hard to resist comparing the plays in rotation. I try to avoid this — unless I'm able to say, as I am with the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's rep of Macbeth and Twelfth Night, that both are superb, each in its own way.
From the fresh beginning of this Twelfth Night— in a summer rain, circa 1920, on a seashore boardwalk where passersby watch a distant shipwreck — to its gentle musical ending, director Carmen Khan celebrates the folly of love with warmth and humor.
Another plus: In this Twelfth Night, the gloomy cast of Macbeth is turned upside-down, not mirrored. For example, Annabel Capper (Lady Macbeth) is almost unrecognizable as an ensemble servant. Julia Jensen Ray (a witch in Macbeth) plays the leading role of Viola, who survives that shipwreck and decides to make her way in Illyria by disguising herself as the young "Cesario" and by serving the local Duke, Orsino (Deaon Griffin-Pressley).
Love from afar
Other actors with small Macbeth roles shine in Twelfth Night: Adam Kampouris makes a musical, mischievous fool Feste; Jenna Kuerzi scores as the saucy maid Maria; and Elise Hudson finds the manic humor in the role of Olivia. Griffin-Pressley as the romantically naive Orsino loves her from afar and sends “Cesario” to woo her in his name, but Olivia is instantly smitten with the youth.
Rob Kahn, so solid as Macbeth, here plays the stuffy servant Malvolio with requisite pomposity but also a satisfying dollop of humanity: he solves the problem of his fiery exit with an unscripted reconciliation that feels right in this upbeat production. William LeDent as Sir Toby is appropriately besotted, and John Zak's unique comedic talents shine in the role of Olivia's hapless suitor, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
My pet peeve
The work around the actors is likewise strong. Fabian Obispo's compositions for Shakespeare's songs use the cast’s vocal talents well, and his sound design defines the seaside location effectively. Vickie Esposito's costumes add to the merriment, with Duke Orsino pining for Olivia in stylish pajamas and Olivia opulent in a series of '20s flapper dresses.
Esposito's costumes also make Viola convincingly male-looking, a pet peeve of mine with Twelfth Night. The script demands that other characters must accept her disguise without seeming like complete idiots, and Viola must also be credibly mistaken for her lost brother Sebastian (Josh Kachnycz). Some productions ignore this challenge altogether. By conquering the first hurdle, this production makes the second easier to accept.
Bethanie Wampol's set — ideally lean and foreboding for Macbeth — becomes warm and beautifully weathered in Twelfth Night, with just a few pillows and gauzy curtains, complemented by Julia Novack's evocative lighting. Michael Cosenza and LeDent's comic fights are as silly as their Macbeth combat is grim.
I cannot recommend one play in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's repertory over the other. I wholeheartedly urge you to see both.
What, When, Where
Twelfth Night. By William Shakespeare; Carmen Khan directed. Through May 22, 2016 at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St., Philadelphia. (215) 496-8001 or http://www.phillyshakespeare.org/.
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