There are always challenges to outdoor theater, especially in summer. There's the heat, bugs, chances of thunderstorms and loud noises both natural and manmade with which to contend. But good actors aptly deal with these situations while staying in character and in the moment. Thus the cast of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's “Twelfth Night” is to be commended for achieving stellar performances despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the performance on opening night.
The play opens with a take-control walk on the stage by Billy Christopher Maupin as Feste the Fool while Billy Idol's “White Wedding” plays softly from a party about a half-mile from Agecroft Hall. The evening becomes even more astonishing when the actors (who are flawlessly costumed by Rebecca Cairns and Anne Hoskins) ignore the nearby strains of Lady Gaga, BeyoncAc and Miley Cyrus. Katrinah Carol Lewis as Countess Olivia and Laurel Maughn as Viola manage a wonderful exchange in the scene in which Olivia falls for Viola, who's disguised as a man. Thomas L. Cunningham (Malvolio) expertly delivers the monologue and fantasy about becoming a count while an airplane flies overhead. Cunningham sends the audience into a sympathetic peel of laughter as he seizes the moment of the increasing sound of the plane with a gesture to the heavens as though the flight had been planned to emphasize his words.
By the beginning of the second act, the party down the road has amped up the volume and it's plainly audible in the courtyard. Jonathan Conyers (Fabian), David Janosik (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) and Foster Soloman (Sir Toby Belch) acknowledge the music (which cannot be ignored) with a bit of a dance and a mention by Janosik — all in character and fitting within the constraints of the scene. A train and the ultimate police break-up of the nearby party faze not this noble troupe, which puts forth a fabulous performance of a Shakespeare classic. And I bet audiences will find the show even better without the extra soundtrack.
Richmond Shakespeare's production of “Twelfth Night” runs Thursday through Sunday nights until July 3 at Agecroft Hall. Tickets are $13-$27. For information visit richmondshakespeare.com or call 866-227-3849.