By Barbara Anne Kirshner
In this COVID era where outdoor activities are preferred, the Carriage House Players, in partnership with the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithtown Historical Society, has extended the usual summer open air entertainment by heralding autumn with an under the stars production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night.
East Main Street in Smithtown is well lit at night by passing car headlights but once you turn off the main road and head up a narrow country lane, you are instantly immersed in a blanket of serene darkness save for an illuminated structure standing tall in the distance.
A string of white twinkling lights guides the way through a meadow that ends at this grandiose structure decorated as a red barn framed by natural towering trees. You have just entered the world that is Twelfth Night.
This tale of unrequited love, believed to have been written around 1601–1602, has a whirlwind of twists and turns bursting with intrigue and mistaken identities that one remains riveted throughout.
The pre-show antics make it worth getting to the grounds early. Actors in Victorian garb circulate, hob knob with the audience, one strums a guitar and even reads tarot cards.
High-test energy explodes right from the start and maintains momentum through to a rollicking ending. This exceptionally well-rehearsed cast, thanks to director, Christine Boehm, appears comfortable with Elizabethan English and flings Shakespeare’s words in an easy, conversational manner just as the Bard intended.
The opening springs to life with the song I Put a Spell on You and the stage rocks with a captain at the helm trying to stay the course of his ship veering off through a turbulent storm. Black sheers fiercely whip up and down, an abstract representation of violent waves which ends with a catastrophic shipwreck.
Enter Anna Stacy, dynamic as Viola, in a role that shifts genders from female to male and back again. Viola was rescued by the sea captain, the adept Patrick Campbell, while Dan Schindlar, charismatic as her brother Sebastian, is rescued by Antonia, played by the expressive Zöe Katsaros. Neither are aware that the other has survived which adds another layer of intrigue to the plot.
Viola disguises as a young man, ‘Cesario’, to go into the service of Michael Mandato’s evocative Count Orsino. Orsino is tortured by unrequited love for Countess Olivia a damsel in mourning for seven years over the death of her brother. Mary Caulfield captivates as the grieving countess shrouded in black and spurning all suitors. ‘Cesario,’ in doing the bidding of Orsino, professes his master’s love for Olivia, but it backfires when the countess falls in love with ‘Cesario’ instead.
Upon seeing Sebastian, Olivia assumes he is ‘Cesario’ and implores him to marry her which he does willingly. In a final twist, ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian appear before Olivia and Orsino causing more confusion. But Viola reveals her true identity, declares her love for the count and is reunited with her twin brother.
Sub-plots abound with Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby, a drunkard performed with gusto by Evan Donnellan and his comrade, Sir Andrew, (Jae Hughes), a delightful fop who also pines for Olivia. This duo adds much madcap humor into the mix!
Another comical twist happens when Maria, Olivia’s maid, played with relish by Katie Murano, pulls a prank on the pompous steward, Malvolio, making him think Olivia is in love with him. Kevin Callaghan’s Malvolio falls into hilarious raptures as the lovesick steward and nearly stops the show.
Another participant in the plot against Malvolio is Feste, Olivia’s jester, played by the multi-talented Ana McCasland who displays all of her talents from singing to playing the guitar to acting.
For an electric celebration of wits, intrigue and an enthusiastic ensemble thoroughly committed to Shakespeare’s raucous comedy, catch a performance Twelfth Night, now playing through Oct. 31.
The Carriage House Players presents Twelfth Night on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 East Main Street, Smithtown on the evenings of Oct. 15, 17, 22, 24, 29 and 31. Tickets are $20, $15 seniors and children 12 and under. To purchase, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.