TREMONT — As perfect and polished as previous performances of “Twelfth Night” that I’ve seen have been, they were no more delightful than the zany version launched by the Barn Arts Collective last weekend in a little red barn in Bass Harbor. There, an audience of 40 or so packed against one wall in a hodge-podge of chairs and cushions.
Granted, a lot of that enjoyment is due to the play itself, one of the bard’s cleverest comedies, in which our heroine Viola and her look-alike brother, Sebastian, are shipwrecked and wash up on the shores of Duke Orsino’s realm. Each believing the other has perished, they make their way into town. Viola, unsure of the lay of the land here, disguises herself as a man. As Cesario, she hires herself out as a servant to the duke. Orsino is so taken with the comely lad that he enlists his help wooing the lovely Countess Olivia, who has zero interest in him but takes an instant shine to the pretty boy messenger. Viola, in turn, finds herself smitten by the duke.
And then Sebastian turns up.
All sorts of complications and hilarity ensue, aided and abetted by a pair of drunken lords, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, Feste the fool, a jerk named Malvolio and Maria, a saucy wench.
Somehow, the Barn Arts folks have managed to pull off this complicated comedy with only four actors, Andrew Simon, Brittany Parker, Mélissa Smith and Chris Tyler, rather than the usual complement of a dozen or so. They do this in a manner that has preserved most of the Bard’s witty words and all of the fun. In fact, doubling and tripling up the roles adds considerably to that fun, especially with Simon playing both the Duke Orsino and his love interest Olivia, whom Simon plays without any draggy camping it up. The scene in which Olivia confesses her hopeless love for Cesario – whom she does not know is a woman – is actually very poignant, despite the actor looking ridiculous in an ugly gown and even uglier wig.
To aid the audience in identifying exactly who’s who, a video of character credits is projected onto the barn wall before the play begins. If some folks are still confused at the end of the first act, the company gives a brief synopsis of what happened before the start of the second act – also a hoot.
Highlights of the show include Sir Toby (Tyler) and Sir Andrew (Simon) behaving like a couple of wild and crazy guys; Malvolio (Smith), the pinched faced, imperious idiot showing off his yellow stockings after he is pranked into thinking his mistress Olivia has the hots for him. Another highlight is Sebastian and Olivia’s happy reunion, which has Parker talking to herself without once losing her place or the fast pace of the dialogue.
The only thing missing from this show was a half hour or so they cut out of the play. While the editing was done well, some great scenes ended up on the “cutting room floor.” Still, as much fun as that extra 30 minutes might have been for the audience, it likely would have killed the quartet of actors, all of whom earned gales of laughter throughout the performance and a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. Bravo!
The really great news here is that it’s not over, folks. The Barn Arts Collective has three more performances of “Twelfth Night” planned for next weekend, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 28 and 29, at 7 p.m., with another late-night performance on Saturday night.
On Sunday, Aug. 30, starting at 5 p.m., the seventh annual Hamilton Project gets underway. This is perhaps best described as a moveable feast of theatrical fare performed by 10 guest artists.
Also, over at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor Thursdays and Saturdays through Sept. 5, at 11 a.m., the Barn Arts Collective will perform their interactive children’s show “We Run the Ship.”