First we had a rollicking Paul Giamatti “Hamlet,” sloshing and slopping with japery.
And now we have a “Twelfth Night,” that’s quite comfortable exploring its own melancholy.
Which is not to say that Hartford Stage’s “Twelfth Night” isn’t funny. It is. But the laughs come from odd sources. Orsino (the handsome nobleman), for example, is funny right from his opening scene. Feste (the fool) is rather pensive throughout. This is a gorgeous, idiosyncratic, unpredictable production, and you should go see it. But be prepared for a peculiar twist. 12th’s comic trio — Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek — is Shakespeare’s funniest ensemble (pace, rude mechanicals), but in this Darko Tresnjak production Bruce Turk’s thoroughly excellent Malvolio gets the biggest laugh (and, later on, the audience’s squirming sympathy). Tresnjak mutes the Big Three just a little so that he can explore other colors of the play. And those colors are pasted across the back of the gorgeous set at play’s end, as the cast turns its back to the audience and regards a Maxfield Parrish sunset, beautiful and a little sad.
The play — like so many plays in Connecticut this year — is a visual feast. And Tresnjak is turning out to be one hell of a director and helmsman. He will never love us the way Michael Wilson loved us, and we will never love him back the way we did Wilson. He’s not that guy. But we may love his work very, very much. He’s directed five plays since he got here, and four of them have been sensational. And one senses that he has also invested heavily, as artistic director, in plays he’s not actually directing. I can’t help but feel the restaging of Beth Henley’s “Abundance” got some kind of Tresnjak transfusion.
So this is good. Go see this show. Have greatness thrust upon you.