Thursday, July 2, 2009

Theater Review: Twelfth Night in the Park with Hathaway, Esparza, McDonald

Anne Hathaway, Raúl Esparza
and the company of Twelfth Night.
Photo by Joan Marcus

A Great Show is Born, Achieved and Thrust Upon Us
By Lauren Yarger
Some shows are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. The Public Theater’s rendition of Twelfth Night for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park is just great. Period.

Anne Hathaway makes a stunning New York stage debut as Viola, who, believing her twin brother, Sebastian (Stark Sands), has drowned in the shipwreck that washes her up on the shores of Illyria, disguises herself as a man known as Cesario to serve Duke Orsino (Raul Esparza). The Duke sends Cesario to court Countess Olivia (Audra McDonald), but she is taken instead, with Cesario, whose pretense becomes more difficult as Viola falls in love with Orsino.
Orsino becomes attracted to Viola, but that's problematic since she's, well, a man, or so he thinks.

Mistaken identity and some other subplots (I’ll let you read Spark Notes if you aren’t already familiar with the story) bring great comedic bits. Adding to the humor are strong performances from Hamish Linklater, who plays Andrew Aguecheck, also a suitor of Olivia, Jay Sanders in the as Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, and Julie White as Maria, Olivia’s plotting gentlewoman.

Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway

Director Daniel Sullivan makes the most of all the talent and of the enchanting set, by rolling actors as well as props up and down John Lee Beatty’s rolling green hills with built in stairs and trees, all set in front of Central Park’s towering Belvidere Castle. Lighting is by Peter Kaczorowski and the sound, which should be a model for all outdoor productions, is by Acme Sound Partners.

Hathaway and Esparza as well as others (though, disappointingly, not McDonald) lend their really pleasant voices to wonderful Celtic-sounding music by HEM, supervised and arranged by Greg Pliska and played by five musicians on stage and in costume (Jane Greenwood, designer, dresses everyone in 18th century-looking garb). Choreographer Mimi Lieber matches the “what you will” feel of the evening with delightful, joy-filled dance.

The show is one of the freshest and most entertaining renditions of the classic I have ever seen and it’s truly a night of great fun, from the free tickets to the top-notch performances to the really unbelievably, indescribably delicious sandwiches at theater cafe. Even some of the last words from the play, put to music, seem to be written for this summer alone: “for the rain, it raineth every day.” And indeed most of the performances have been presented despite the weather.

The show runs through July 12 at the park’s Delacorte Theater. For the free tickets, you can wait in line at the park, or take a chance in the virtual line online. Visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Don’t be put off by the advertising campaign that touts the show and the production of The Bacchae that will follow as “cross dressing in the park.” Viola’s donning of men’s wear is situational, not sexual in choice.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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