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June 26, 2013

Theater: Lust, love and Shakespeare merge under the stars

‘Twelfth Night’
A production by Kentucky Shakespeare. Directed by Brantley M. Dunaway. Continues through July 22 in the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Central Park (1340 S. Fourth St.). General admission seating is free. For more info, call 574-9900 or go to kyshakespeare.com.

It’s mostly in the dark of night that Shakespeare’s plays spring to life. Witches stir their brews. Ghosts walk the battlements. Lovers meet at balconies. Kings inspire their soldiers.

And those are just the tragedies and histories. It’s in the comedic nighttime where Shakespeare’s intricate understanding of social order and individual psychology finds its most sweetly seditious expression. And how sweet it is that Kentucky Shakespeare opened its season on a midsummer weekend with a delightful production of Shakespeare’s celebration of midwinter revels, “Twelfth Night.”

Shakespeare in the Park has been a fixture of Louisville culture for more than a half century. For good reason. There are few more fully pleasurable experiences than going from dusk to full dark while barred owls swoop and call in the background and indelible words are spoken on the stage.

This “Twelfth Night,” directed by Brantley M. Dunaway, seemed a bit stiff during the opening scenes on opening night. The main romantic figures — Orsino (John Pasha), who swoons with love for Olivia (Rosie Ward); Olivia, who wants nothing to do with him; and Viola (Madison Dunaway), the shipwrecked damsel whose gender-switching disguise leads to amorous confusions — declaimed their lines with such unsettling bombast that I began to fear a long, long night. Then, all of a sudden, the comic forces had their say: Sir Toby Belch (Paul Kiernan); Toby’s companion Fabian (Matt Lytle); Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Brad Fraizer, in an especially exhilarating display of verbal and physical wit); Feste the Fool (Peter Riopelle); and Maria (aka Mary, in this Celtic-leaning production, Amy Barrick). That group, along with their officious foil, Malvolio (Jonathan Visser), brought an explosive chemistry to the stage. And for the rest of the night, Dunaway’s scheme — using the lusty irreverence of his farcical forces to highlight the pompous foibles of the upper crust — made for delightfully clear comedy.

It didn’t hurt matters, either, that during a wonderfully comic scene (notably set post-midnight), the power went down. No matter. From the back rows the dialogue was clear, the singing beautiful (there’s quite a bit of music in this production, including incidental music and settings of Shakespeare’s songs by Bentley Rhodes). An obstacle overcome often brings folks together, and once the power came back, the troupe seemed even more energized. And apart from that glitch, the technical aspects of the production were quite fine. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set was superb (it includes a waterfall that also doubled nicely as tempestuous surf). Shon LeBlanc’s costumes, Nick Dent’s lighting, and Drew Facher’s fight choreography (including a fun clash of swords) all contributed to a richly conceived production.

And though this is a comedy of lust and love, it’s not without emotional heft. In the closing scenes, when Viola’s look-alike brother Sebastian (Kyle Curry) arrives in town, a crisis of mistaken identity leaves his loyal friend Antonio (Chris Ryan) in confused grief at an incomprehensible betrayal.

And in the end, the romances come around right. And it seems possible that even the notoriously abused Malvolio may find his way back into the fold.