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Macaroni Review: Enthralling Production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

By Stacey Jones

One of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays,Twelfth Night is a sublime comedy brought to life at Two River Theater by a captivating cast that delivers excellence in this enthralling production. Directed by Sara Holdren with original music composed by the band/theater collective The Lobbyists, the unique combination of prose and music creates a wondrous experience for the audience.

The production opens with an evocative shipwreck as fraternal twins Viola and Sebastian are separated on the shores of Illyria, each thinking the other has drowned. Swept into the story from the start, we first experience Viola’s deception that enables her to join Duke Orsino’s court by disguising herself as a man named Cesario. Joey McIntyre is captivating with an eloquent, expressive performance as Orsino. A veteran of Broadway’s Waitress and Wicked and a member of 1980s pop group New Kids on the Block, McIntyre’s portrayal of Orsino in this Shakespeare production is intensely engrossing. Hannah Rose Caton, making her Two River debut as Viola, embodies the role with distinct charm and subtle mannerisms that portray the meaning behind the moment.

What ensues as the production unfolds is a witty exploration of a remarkable love triangle. Olivia has promised to mourn her brother’s death for seven years, so Orsino sends his trusted Cesario as a messenger to deliver word of his love for Olivia and try to win her affections on his behalf. Duke Orsino loves Lady Olivia who actually loves the handsome Cesario, not realizing that Cesario is Viola in disguise, and Viola is in love with Orsino. Kathleen Littlefield expressively portrays the role of Olivia as she transforms from a demure, mourning maiden to a brazen, lovestruck woman. The love triangle is further complicated by the actions of Olivia’s drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch and Belch’s friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek who tries to seek Olivia’s affections, the witty family fool Feste, stern yet pompous steward Malvolio, and scheming servant Maria. Richard Hollis pulls at our heartstrings with his engaging performance as Malvolio. He allows the letter created by Maria, played by Celeste Ciulla, and the rest of the dubious, mischevious crew to misguide him into a particular manner of dressing and behavior that is markedly different from his typical demeanor. While laughable when he appears on stage in the suggested outfit, it was also disheartening and one couldn’t help but feel sympathetic for Malvolio’s plight.

We later learn that Sebastian also survived the shipwreck thanks to the pirate, Antonio, who saved him from drowning. As they arrive together in Illyria, confusion ensues with mistaken identities between the fraternal twins. Twelfth Night concludes with an explosive family reunion and the inevitable coupling of lovers.The prose of Shakespeare’s story is intertwined with unique musical interludes throughout the production. Utilizing a myriad of instruments ranging from electric guitars to tambourines, Music Director Tommy Crawford guides the cast as they perform a musical score that sets the tone for the current or upcoming scene. Crawford also portrays the role of Feste with whit and charm.

The energy in the theater was palpable during the entire production. This exciting performance of Twelfth Night captured the attention of every audience member, from the pre-teen children to the seniors, and was met with a thunderous applause followed by a standing ovation at its conclusion. Performances continue through February 2nd at Two River Theater in Red Bank, and we strongly suggest you grab your tickets to see the show while you still have the opportunity to witness it for yourself!

The company includes Hannah Rose Caton (Viola), Celeste Ciulla (Maria), Tommy Crawford (Feste), Richard Hollis (Malvolio), Carman Lacivita (Antonio), Kathleen Littlefield (Olivia), Joey McIntyre (Orsino), Luis Quintero (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Kurt Rhoads (Sir Toby Belch), Rudy Roushdi (Sebastian), Will Turner (Sea Captain), and Tony Aidan Vo (Fabian). For the production that we were invited to see and for the rest of the show’s run, the role of Sir Toby Belch is being played by Nance Williamson. The creative team includes scenic designer Claire DeLiso, costume designer Fabian Aguilar, lighting designer Caitlin Smith Rapoport, sound designers Kate Marvin & Kathy Ruvuna.