Toronto
2 min

Love starved

'If music be the food of love, play on'

FOGGY NIGHT. Opposite Bruce Gooch's Sir Toby Belch, Michael Spencer Davis as Malvolio (left) is one of the few highlights in CanStage's fuzzy production of Twelfth Night. Credit: Xtra files

The Canadian stage production of Twelfth Night, currently running in High Park, marks the company’s 21st season producing Shakespeare outdoors. The most transvestic of the bard’s comedies, Twelfth Night toys seductively with gender and sexuality. There is a lovely homo-esque moment at the end that could be produced with fabulous abandon. Alas, although a pleasant, colourful and affordable evening under the stars, the CanStage production does little to bring this queer script to life.



Uneven performances manifest vocally in loud, measured strokes that rise and fall with lifeless tones; an effect more aligned with the need to project rather than an ear for emotional range. David Storch’s direction does little to counteract vocal difficulties. Actors move infrequently during longish speeches. During dialogue they seem stranded in small playing spaces on a beautiful but cluttered stage.



Relationships between costumes (David Boechler) and set (Bretta Gerecke) are vague. With the exception of Malvolio’s SM-inspired yellow stockings and the matching outfits of the twins, characters are draped in a mishmash of diluted form and colour. Spatial and tonal dynamism could have been provided by a clear, strong relationship to the bright blue set that emerges strikingly from the natural greenery of the park.



Performing outdoors is no easy task and the performers must be commended for their valiant attempts. However, much of the cast lacks the emotional nuance required by this complex comedy. Genevieve Steele’s Olivia is a petulant, shrill and rather shallow young princess. She has some fine comic moments near the end with Malvolio, but would have been more effective had she provided layers of emotion throughout.



Viola and Sebastian, the twins whose tragic separation initiates the plot, and which calls for a drag role in order to propel romantic intrigue, are played by Zainab Musa and Lwam Ghebrehariat. More vocal problems limit Musa’s emotional range, and Ghebrehariat’s Sebastian, although effective in the initial love scene with Olivia, rarely rises beyond the one-dimensional emotional through line that overwhelms this production.



One bright light in the midst of all this is Michael Spencer Davis as Malvolio. His loyal yet jilted comic lover rises from the ashes in the letter scene monologue, but his final demise lacks full impact because the other performances are so unfulfilling.



A famous line from the play, “If music be the food of love, play on,” begs to be parodied in this production. There simply is not enough music throughout to satisfy the appetite this comedy could sustain, had it been designed and directed with more attention to complex relationships between all of the creative departments. As it stands, the food of love provided is disparate, unseasoned and barely an appetizer. So bring a snack. Tasteful, restrained picnics are allowed.



* Twelfth Night continues until Sun, Aug 31 at the High Park amphitheatre. Admission is pay-what-you-can; call (416) 368-3110.