Shakespeare never promised us a rose garden, yet that is exactly what patrons were rewarded with at the McCarter Theater's Twelfth Night, a stylish celebration of mood and movement, staged upon a blanketed bed of rose petals by director Rebecca Taichman. A co-production with The Shakespeare Theater Company of Washington, D.C., the Bard's wistful romance unfolds with clarity and visual allure.
The mythical land of Ilyria has been set in a blushing botanical garden and musically framed by a quintet and the sweet soprano voice of Valentina Fleet. If music be the food of love, the production is urged by the viewer to play on.
Shakespeare assembled his most appealing cast of passionate lovers and foolish pranksters and they are acted on the Princeton stage with formidable dash and flair. The shipwrecked Viola, who dons male attire and masquerades as a page boy, is played by a vivacious Rebecca Brooksher with a vital and sensitive air. Olivia, the alluring aristocratic heiress, is keenly drawn by Veanne Cox, who balances her mistaken passion for the disguised Viola with regal reserve and a blushing awakening.
Ted van Griethuysen is Malvolio, the vain and vulnerable pompous steward. He is a haughty comic prize in the "letter" scene in which he is embarrassingly duped and humiliated by Sir Toby Belch and his conniving cronies. Belch is acted with blowzy good nature by Rick Foucheux. The jovial and foolish knight, Aguecheek, is broadly over played by Tom Story, but ultimately this is a crowd pleasing turn.
Olivia's quick witted fool, Feste, as drawn by Stephen DeRosa , is both wry and dry as the serenading jester. Christopher Innvar acts the lovesick Duke with misguided passion and Kevin Isola as Viola's twin brother is delightfully bewitched, bothered and bewildered when seduced by Olivia.
The physical production is beautifully breathtaking, from a storm tossed maiden floating high above the stage awash in the deep blue sea to Riccardo Hernandez' blushing carpet of rose petals. It's a luscious celebration of love, accented with waltzing choreography and a lyrical original music score by Martin Desjardins. It's an early Spring tonic and all too brief encounter.