At 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Thursday July 24, the rain was coming down so hard one could hardly see across the street. We were convinced by Mother Nature's show of force that ARTFARM'S 2nd week of shows was going to begin on the 2nd floor of Chapman Hall at Middlesex Community Hall.
The rain subsided at 3: 30 p.m. and, by the time guitarists Banning Eyre and Dirck Westervelt were 3 songs into their lovely set of West African melodies and rhythms (approximately 6:15), the sun was shining. The assembled multitude, much smaller yet just as enthusiastic, cheered the musicians on.
At 7:15, director Marcella Trowbridge stood in front of the audience, talked a bit about the play and then warned of an impending storm. This time, the tempest was man-made and very clever at that. We were soon introduced to the young heroine Viola, separated from her twin brother Sebastian by the storm, and now alone in the land of Illyria. With the help of the ship's captain, the only other survivor (that they know of), she disguises herself as a man and takes a job in the court of Duke Orsino.
Along the way, the audience meets the Duke, his love interest Lady Olivia, her kinsman Sir Toby Belch, her gentlewoman (and Sir Toby's love interest) Maria, Feste her jester, Sir Toby's foppish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a character as ridiculous as his name), and Lady Olivia's steward, the puritanical, self-obsessed Malvolio.
Near the end of the play, Viola's brother Sebastian returns and the love story in the play is humourously but happily resolved. Yet, it's the extremely broad and somewhat tasteless prank pulled on Malvolio by Maria, Sir Toby and the Feste that creates the biggest laughs.
There is much to like in this production, from the ingenious set design to the uniformly fine acting. There is not a weak link in the major parts and even the minor parts are dispatched with aplomb. Jackie Coleman plays Viola who pretends to be Cesario and she has a lot of fun with the part. Nicki Poer also portrays a man as she plays the sniveling wuss Aguecheek. The director's paramour, Dic Wheeler, makes Sir Toby despicable but lovable while Brian Jennings (pictured above) makes Malvolio despicable and, especially, pitiable. Jennings has a booming voice and eats up the stage on his every appearance. Maria, played by Mariah Sage, looks like she's having the time of her life (considering that Sage was also directing "The Taming of the Shrew" for the Oddfellows Playhouse Summer Shakespeare Academy opening the same time she was on the stage, it looks being on stage suited her just fine.) Kudos go to everyone in the cast.
Credit must also go to the "pit band", music director Joseph Getter (flute, percussion, keyboard), Mick Bolduc (guitars) and Max Wareham (guitar, mandolin, woodwinds, percussion.) They added plenty of aural color to the various scenes until they were undone by a faulty sound system. The "sound"was much better than in previous years and the glitches may have been caused by the fact that the sound system had been dismantled for use inside only to be patched together quickly when the decision to stay outside was made.
I understand there's a lot going on in the area this weekend but do go see this show. Everybody worked hard to make it look easy and the setting really is lovely. It's free and, yes, they do ask for donations but, trust me, you'll forget your troubles and downpours for the better part of the evening.
For more information and directions, go to www.art-farm.org or call 860-346-4390.