TWELFTH NIGHT by William Shakespeare
directed by T.J. Walsh*
Trinity Shakespeare Festival

*Outstanding Direction Award, DFW Theatre Critics Circle

Dallas Morning News

by Lawson Taitte

It’s time to leap for joy, fans of classical theatre. This past week Fort Worth’s revitalized Trinity Shakespeare Festival sprang forth fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. It’s a bold birth, ready to make dynamic artistic statements and enliven the words of Western culture’s leading playwright with a vision that connects the Bard’s texts to the modern world. Under the guidance of T.J. Walsh and Harry B. Parker, the 2009 Festival employs two Texas Christian University venues to present combined professional/ student staffed and cast productions of comedy Twelfth Night and tragedy Romeo and Juliet. They both do admirable justice to the plays and provide high caliber entertainment to full house audiences. No tentative rebirth!

You won’t encounter more masterfully designed, exquisitely beautiful or performance enhancing sets at any regional venue. Twelfth Night, designed by TCU professor and union designer Michael Heil, with credentials ranging across the US, Europe and Asia, creates lyrical magical surrealism on the proscenium-style Buschman Theatre at Landreth Hall. A massive rectangular panel floats upstage at the back of the uncluttered playing space, painted in rich Mediterranean hues to look like sky. It presides over all action and opens up the space with clean linear definition. While clearly man-made, it constantly reminds the audience of the setting’s proximity to nature and the play’s contrasting themes of artifice and truth. Fanciful, stylized, Styrofoam trees frame the playing space and reinforce the clean Mondrian-like linearity of the overall design. Readily movable elements, the actors use these trees to enhance the humor of particular scenes. Like the free-floating sky painting panel, the trees visually reinforce the contrast between the artificial and the real throughout the play. All other set elements are simple and uncomplicated, either carried in and out by actors or softly flown in from above. A whimsical triumph, takes the breath away.

Under Walsh's direction it is David Coffee’s show as he croons and intones composer Martin Desjardins songs as the court clown Feste. He comes across as part conjurer/ part madman, seems to spin the illusionary tale of romance and mistaken identity. Secondary characters dominate the stage, from J. Brent Alford as irreverent drunk Sir Toby Belch to scheming, lusty Emily Gray as Maria, to indefatigable Daniel Frederick, clearly favored by the audience, who makes a completely geeky donkey of himself with reckless, joyful abandon any time he strides on stage. David Fluitt creates an unforgettable, suffering steward Malvolio, Shakespeare’s satirical depiction of the Puritan opportunists running amok at Elizabeth I’s court at the time. (Stephen Colbert has nothing on the Bard in the way of incisive character assassination.) Trisha Miller Smith has some lovely moments as Countess in mourning Olivia.

Welcome back to life, Trinity Shakespeare. You’re needed; your aspirations and accomplishments are honorable. I’m delighted to see such enthusiastic, engaged audiences. Bring it on!