Smith Street Stage graced the concrete grounds of Carroll Park for the third summer in a row with its production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Directed by Beth Jastroch and starring Radio City Music Hall Rockette Mary Cavett as Viola, the group successfully modernizes one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies, lighter fare than last year’s Macbeth.
If all the world’s a stage, then a park in Carroll Gardens certainly provides a colorful cast of characters. With swing sets on one side and a jungle gym on the other, the actors, clad in seemingly collegiate clothing described by one audience member as very “Ivy League—an oxford under a cardigan, under a blazer, all in pastels,” perform for a laid-back, in some cases half-dressed, crowd. “There is a gentleness in the audience,” said Amy Holman, Carroll Gardens resident who read about the show on . “It’s the perfect summer play… [The actors] are having fun.”
Without wings to enter and exit from, the players wove in and out of diapered toddlers pushing toys, kids dancing directly in front of the four-piece band, topless joggers running through, and parents reclining on picnic blankets. “It’s pretty,” said one mother holding a scooter. “[My daughter] was dancing for the second half.”
“What’s not to like… free theatre outdoors, sipping wine,” commented a friend of one of the actors. “It’s the perfect atmosphere.”
Yelling children, mosquitoes, and paramedic sirens aside, four audience members lauded the actors, declaring they could easily envision the production Off-Broadway. “I was sucked into the show even with kids and ambulances around,” commented Tariq. “The acting was superb,” said Karen, another Carroll Gardens resident, who decided to come after seeing a sign outside of the park. “I loved it. I want to see it again tomorrow.”
What lacked in formal theatre amenities like air-conditioning, acoustics, and sets, was strengthened by strong costume and prop choices, be it Sir Toby’s fraternity style or Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s silly Vineyard Vine-esque lobster shorts paired with pink shoes. The actors fed off audience interaction, using the playground to indeed play. “It’s exactly the way Shakespeare should be performed,” said Victoria. “It’s just hard to direct something outside.”
While one family left early “because it’s bedtime,” one group of friends just found it too hard to hear. “It’s a fun idea, but there are reasons why plays occur in theatres.” The general consensus though was “love” for the acting, for the community theatre, for the artistic direction.
The challenges of performing outdoors were equaled by talented actors who committed to their character choices. The fools bedecked with golf-clubs and badminton racquets hid behind benches, Orsino with a Princeton tie was the emotional prepster, Antonio with a more Vassar-esque look pleaded for his friend’s support, and Olivia, with her Wellesley-coiffed hairdo and outfit circa 1940 played the grieving seductress beautifully.
Was the play then, based on cross-dressing and mistaken identities, being used as a social commentary on college life? Perhaps not. More likely, in the words of Executive Director Jonathan Hopkin’s mother, just “a clean adaptation” that made Shakespeare relevant on a hot summer night: Brooklyn, 2012.