I made my first visit to Centenary College two weekends ago, to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that I’d learned about on the radio. Just looking at the production’s excellent poster (shown here) made me happy, and I could only hope that the actual performance would be as good.

The Kutz black box theater resonated with mellow music from a sharply-dressed band as I took a seat. The Kutz theater has a long rectangular shape with audience seating on two sides of the stage.The play opened to an explosion of activity. One end of the stage held a shipwrecking storm with twin siblings Viola (Tyler Milazzo) and Sebastian (Jonathan Meola) while other performers held a sail aloft with lively choreography. At the other end of the stage stood Count Orsino (Christopher Kolwicz) in his court. This lively beginning showcased the Kutz Theater’s unique real estate; the action switched frequently between Orsino’s court and the ship at sea, and audience members had to turn their heads to see the other end of the stage, heightening the excitement.

Having played Malvolio in two separate productions of Twelfth Night, I paid close attention to see what this group would do differently. I was particularly pleased with Kyle Dylan Connor’s performance as the servant Malvolio, which I had to admit was better than either of mine. He was proper, haughty, and consistent in his mannerisms. Another interesting feature was the casting of a female performer, Becca Rind, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Rind’s comic physicality reminded me of a wind-up toy that gets wound up and travels in a straight line until it runs into something–there were times when this diminutive Sir Andrew would be picked up by another actor and carried across the stage, heightening the zany comedy of the scene. This cross-gender casting choice also underscores Twelfth Night’s theme of sex/gender ambiguity.

Speaking of physicality, I found the constant, interesting stage movement of the actors to be addictive. The more I saw, the more I wanted.  Malvolio’s letter scene (Act II Scene 5) had the three conspirators–Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch (Kyle Parham) and Maria (Briana Klingaman)–darting behind trees to hide from Malvolio as he “[practices] behavior to his own shadow.” I saw a few telling bits of physicality between the romantic figures as well, like when Viola, dressed as a boy, lies in Duke Orsino’s lap as they listen to music–long before Orsino realizes that “Cesario” is actually a girl. I found myself thinking, “As long as they keep moving, it’ll be funny.”

Director Stephen Davis confirmed that stage movement was emphasized during the rehearsal process, and it showed in the performance. The cast members I talked to confirmed this as well. I salute them, as constant repetition of a scene for fine-tuning movements can sometimes be exhausting.

Antonio (Nick Ardito-Martelli) made an excellent show of swordsmanship in the latter half of the play, using the often-romanticized and rarely seen style of cloak and rapier. I was even more impressed to find that Nick Ardito-Martelli himself choreographed the fights.

I enjoyed the costume work of Sarah Greenstone, which focused on the Victorian Crinoline period. Costuming has some of the most visible and permanent effects on a performance, and I thought the somber colors of the servants’ costumes nicely emphasized the mood of Lady Olivia’s court. I have seen Twelfth Night performed in quasi-Renaissance garb as well as a 60’s Woodstock look, and I think a Victorian look excels in highlighting the stratified society of the play as well as the dangers (or hilarity) of crossing those boundaries.

I would like to thank the cast and crew for a great show. For those who haven’t yet seen a performance at Centenary College, check out http://centenarystageco.org/ for upcoming events and directions. You’ll be glad you did.