The opening night audience of FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training’s first play of the season doth not protest, but rather, finds Shakespeare’s romantic doppelganger of mistaken identity to be a sterling choice for a showcase of student talent. Director Greg Leaming creates a lively free-for-all with his modernist take on the classic comedy, abetting clear-to-the-contemporary-ear speech and some rather eclectic character interpretation.
The modernism is externally reinforced by set designer Chris McVicker’s checkerboard flooring and red furniture, and by David Covach’s costume design, largely suggestive of the ’50s, but sometimes echoing contemporary styles, most glaringly the women’s high heels. Especially successful is the Jester’s Mondrian-inspired color-block spandex sheath, which succeeds in being au courant as well as “Mad Men,” and at the same time, evocative of the crazy quilt colors favored by Elizabethan jesters.
The plot revolves around Viola, an aristocrat who’s been shipwrecked and washed up on the shore of Illyria. For safety, and to make her way in life, she disguises herself as a young man, modeled after her missing twin brother, and lands a job as page to Duke Orsino. He enlists her help in courting the countess Olivia, who then falls for the messenger, disguised Viola, instead, who in turn comes to love Orsino.
Maxey Whitehead plays Viola most believably as a sensible, sensitive young person who handles herself so well it’s difficult to discern why she would be in love with pouty, self-centered Orsino, played with bland ruefulness by Cale Haupert. As Olivia, regal Amanda Lynn Mullen captures the entitled waspishness of the countess, and at the same time, her good taste in men.
Dominating the B plot, Feste, the jester, is uniquely brought to life by Lucy Lavely, who has assumed an intriguing hipster/trickster take on the knowing fool archetype. Reginald K. Robinson plays Malvolio, the head servant, whose self-righteousness makes him the target of a cruel prank played on him by Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew and Maria, respectively played by Brian Nemiroff, Zlatomir Moldovanski and Tori Grace Hines, with Kristen Lynne Blossom as Fabian.
Viola’s lost twin brother. Sebastian arrives in Illyria, bringing the tangled web to its conclusion, played by Jefferson McDonald, who surprises and delights with an unexpected blues, jazz piano solo.
IF YOU GO
When: Through Nov. 18
Where: FSU Cook Theatre, Asolo Repertory, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Cost: $28 matinee; $29 evening
Info: asolorep.org; 351-8000
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