American Players Theatre’s 2012 season included three Shakespeare productions among the five staged at the Up The Hill theatre, an outdoor 1147-seat space reached via a winding hike up a gravel trail in the southern Wisconsin woods. The theatre also offered a shuttle bus, and amid the usual swaying trees and occasional swooping bat, David Frank directed the season centerpiece Twelfth Night with flair, although for the most part the production followed the text and featured standard Elizabethan set and costumes: black boots, ruff collars, and swords, as well as dead leaves, dark burnished metal, and doors and gates topped with spikes. Frank added a strolling musician, composer Sarah Pickett with [End Page 634] recorder and flute to play a live musical score, and he spiced up some of the supporting characters: the bald-headed Feste was less a playful jester than an angry-eyed critic with a waspish tongue and a dangerous menace; and the long-haired Antonio was a moon-eyed pirate with an unrequited gay crush on the shipwrecked Sebastian.
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Most interesting was La Shawn Banks, an African-American actor, adding a racially provocative element to the outsider Malvolio. The dark-skinned Puritan, set apart and reviled, resorted to haughty anger to take his revenge. During the opening funeral of Olivia’s brother, with its somber march of black-clad mourners, there was slow, sad music from Pickett that became slower and sadder with a clap of the hands from Banks’s disapproving Malvolio. Banks just about stole the show, prancing in angrily to scold the drunken singing trio—and scaring away Pickett, who fled upstage—or boasting of his potential advancement—rare for “one of my complexion”—then pulling wax from the bogus letter with a high-pitched squeal. Banks’s Malvolio indeed seemed possessed during his humiliation in 3.4, giving Olivia a showy knowing wink, limping from the tightness of his garters, and thrusting suddenly toward her to display his yellow stockings. [End Page 635]
While Brian Mani’s belching Sir Toby impressed in his whacked-out gray afro and goatee, delivering lines with a Tim Curry-like sneer and leer, swaggering and staggering like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, Cristina Panfilio’s Viola anchored the production. Panfilio’s Viola still seemed feminine as “Cesario” in cute-cropped strawberry blonde hair, and she wore a light green suit–like her survivor brother, Sebastian—so the two were a splash of color in dour Illyria. Panfilio’s Cesario was impassioned in 2.2, giving a Tarzan yell as she...