Day 19: Two Shakespearean actors plunged their swords in audiences’ funny bones
Two metro productions of Twelfth Night this year gave audiences a first-hand opportunity to compare and contrast how two top-notch teams might approach the same centuries-old creative challenge on vastly different stages. One of many interesting comparisons to be made between the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s summer staging in the vast outdoor Mary Rippon Amphitheatre and the DCPA Theatre Company’s in-the-round Space Theatre was how two brilliant comedic actors approached the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
First, some context: Twelfth Night is the story of a young lady who has been shipwrecked in a storm so, to protect herself in a strange land, she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a page in service to the local Duke. In a comedy where nobody loves anyone who loves them back, one of the delicious subplots involves the wild-haired Aguecheek, a rich, boozy, party buffoon who’s always up for a good time. He’s sweet on the grieving lady Olivia, who is way out of his league, but when has that ever stopped anyone (in a Shakespeare play, anyway)?
When Aguecheek is goaded into thinking it’s a good idea (it’s not) to pick a (sword) fight with a boy (who’s really a girl), Shakespeare sets up comic dominoes that have been gleefully tipped over time by famous actors from Alec Guinness to Christopher Plummer to Paul Scofield. To have a fight where neither combatant has any real desire to actually fight becomes both a hilarious comment on the ambiguity of masculinity – and pure, physical-comedy gold.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s go-to funnyman for the past decade has often been Rodney Lizcano, while the DCPA Theatre Company welcomed back Cameron Folmar for the first time in 16 years – and his antics in Twelfth Night, no doubt, will be toasted for the next 16.
Talk about two Sweet ’Cheeks.
Aguecheek may be a dim bulb, but Lizcano and Folmar certainly lit up their respective stages with very different but both belly-laughing portrayals. (That name, but the way, is a reference to bodily excess. “Ague” means violent fever – implying that his cheeks are red from drinking.)
The video above features Mehry Eslaminia as Cesario and Cameron Folmar as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the fight as it played out at the Denver Center. Video by David Lenk.
Says DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman of Folmar: “I like to imagine that Shakespeare wrote those great comic roles for comedians he knew. People he knew could make anything funny, and people the audience already had a connection with. But lord almighty, it’s hard to find an actor who just has that in their nervous system. Cameron was great in his audition, but it wasn’t until we got into rehearsal that the full anarchy of his comic skills became apparent. I have never sat through scenes where I was literally crying, I was laughing so hard. And he never seemed to know what was going to happen next. He is a gift.”
Says Colorado Shakes Artistic Director Timothy Orr of Lizcano: “Rodney is both a masterful clown and a masterful actor – and it’s wonderful to find that in the same human. In my opinion, Aguecheek is a character who is living in a slightly different world than everyone else in the play, and he’s always bringing them into his world of mischief and misunderstanding. Rodney has such a great presence in the rehearsal room, and that’s where the hard work really happens. He has creative ideas, and he is a problem-solver.”
‘Cameron Folmar is the most insanely and adorably funny Sir Andrew I’ve ever seen.’– Juliet Wittman, Westword
One thing both Aguecheeks have in common: That crazy hair. Sir Toby says of Aguecheek’s: “It hangs like flax on a distaff. I hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs and spin it off.” And that’s all the nudge Costume Designers Meghan Anderson Doyle (Colorado Shakes) and Kevin Copenhaver (DCPA) needed to come up with some seriously hair-raising wigs.
“You can interpret that description of his hair in a couple of ways, but we made the decision that it means Aguecheek’s hair is terrible – but he thinks it’s great,” Orr said. “That might seem like a small thing, but it just kept evolving into more and more jokes and comic bits on the stage.”
There is much fun to be had throughout Twelfth Night, but the respective abuse that Aguecheek and Malvolio suffer at the end of the play is intended to leave audiences feeling slightly uncomfortable – and for good reason. “It’s meant to be a commentary on what happens when you take bullying too far,” Orr said of poor Aguecheek, who exits friendless and penniless. “You can ruin a person’s life. That’s an important part of the play, and you lose something if that’s not there. Rodney made that really poignant.”
Lizcano, himself a longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor, has the distinction of being the only actor who was cast in both productions. He’s playing the Priest in the sold-out Denver Center staging that continues through Sunday (December 22).
- “Goaded into a sword fight neither of them wants or is prepared for, Cameron Folmar’s Sir Andrew rips a few pages out of Robin Williams’ book of physical comedy and brings down the house with an apparently ad-libbed series of ludicrous attempts at swordplay.” – Alex Miller, OnStage Colorado
- “Rodney Lizcano’s Sir Andrew is pure genius as he throws everything he has into the role, from his hair to his face to his fingertips to his ever-moving body and floppy socks. In many productions, these comic scenes become tedious. Here they vibrate with life and laughter, dissipate storm clouds, and prove that, yes, Shakespeare is crazy funny.” – Juliet Wittman, Westword
Rodney Lizcano: At a glance
Rodney Lizcano, originally from Pharr, Texas, graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and earned his master’s degree from the DCPA’s National Theatre Conservatory. His recent roles with the DCPA Theatre Company include The Book of Will, American Mariachi, The Constant Wife, Frankenstein, Hamlet and American Night. He recently starred as Richard III for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where other titles have included Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Equivocation. Other theatres: The Old Globe, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Dallas Shakespeare, Theatre Aspen and the Arvada Center. Film: “Silver City,” directed by John Sayles.
Cameron Folmar: At a glance
Cameron Folmar, a New York native who studied at Juilliard, starred as the titular con man in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2003 production of Scapin. (At the time, this reviewer opined for The Denver Post: “With hollowed eyes, barbed tongue and acidic tone, you’d swear Folmar’s Scapin’s modern equivalent is Mickey Rourke on a bad day – which is really every day. Deadpan, yes, but dead-on.” Folmar made his Broadway debut in The 39 Steps and has appeared off-Broadway in Martin Luther On Trial, Five By Tenn, The Merchant of Venice, The Jew Of Malta, Volpone and Waiting For Godot. Elsewhere, he has worked with The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon, as well as the The Guthrie Theatre, Arena Stage, McCarter Theatre, Seattle Rep and many others. He is also a well-known is a voice actor who has provided several characters for World of Warcraft.
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2019 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org