It is strange to express this sentiment given H.A.R.T.’s (Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theater) professional reputation, but their annual summer production was not particularly reflective of all the Actors’ Equity asterisks in the program.
The perennial favorite Twelfth Night has been criticized for being overproduced, but hey, it’s a fun show.
What seemed to be the case at White River State Park this weekend was a serious lack of trust in the fact that Twelfth Night is, indeed, fun. Perhaps in reaction to being set in a popular outdoor venue, director Courtney Sale seemed to place a greater emphasis on playing around between the lines of dialogue and not incorporating the jest within it. Believe me, I don’t go to the theater for an evening of dry subtlety, nor is my performance history inaccurately comparable to a Gallagher concert, but sometimes what is on the page is enough to be amusing without superfluous monkey shines.
A famous Danish theatre critic once wrote that the people doing a funny scene must be careful not to overreach what is already written, and he was right (if not long-lived).
Strangely, all this childlike energy was nowhere to be found at the play’s beginning or end: Viola’s disastrous arrival in Illyria had no sense of urgency, lovelorn Orsino seemed to have had no particular care for music when he famously asks for more (despite the show being crammed with pop songs), and the big reveal at the end was practically limped through.
Also problematic was the position of the venue itself, situated against a clear river bank due west. As best as I could tell, the first hour of the play was set on Krypton during its final moments. Still, once my retinas healed, the show was enjoyable.
Keith Potts made for a sweet voiced and remarkably fresh faced Feste; and Ben Tebbe made some really funny choices in his interpretation of Sir Andrew, overshadowing what are frequently his character’s comedic superiors. Also unabashedly comedic was Ryan Artzberger’s take on that old killjoy Malvolio.
Now, to quibble, this lacked a bit of the malevolence required to make the audience appreciate his brutal comeuppance, but that is remedied by the sheer joy of Artzberger’s performance. What is more, this brave actor had to recite his character’s massive and well-known letter monologue during a hell of an inopportune fireworks show.
That takes some theatrical balls.
Undaunted, Artzberger playfully acknowledged the explosions across the street and carried on. Here’s hoping he went on to find a nice girl with a fetish for yellow hosiery.