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Anne Hathaway in 'Twelfth Night': What did the critics think?

June 26, 2009 | 10:41 am

Twelfthnight

Anne Hathaway has gone from Prada dresses to unflattering menswear. The Oscar-nominated actress debuted this week as the cross-dressing Viola in the Shakespeare in the Park production of "Twelfth Night," where she is acting alongside a who's who of New York's biggest stage names -- Audra McDonald, Raul Esparza, Julie White, Michael Cumpsty and Jay O. Sanders. The production, at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre, has been the talk of the town in recent months as Hathaway fans and Public Theater habitues alike queue up each morning for free tickets in a decades-long summer tradition.

Shakespeare's gender-swapping comedy has been staged many times at the Delacorte -- most memorably in a 2002 production starring Julia Stiles. The play tells the story of twins, Viola and Sebastian (Hathaway and Stark Sands), who are separated during a shipwreck on the coast of Illyria. Viola assumes the identity of a man and enters the services of Duke Orsino (Esparza) who is in love with the mournful Olivia (McDonald). Eventually, Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola, and the subsquent romantic misadventures lead to much pain, remorse and ultimately a wedding.

Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the production also features supporting turns by Hamish Linklater, David Pittu, Herb Foster, Charles Borland and Jon Patrick Walker.

The Delacorte Theatre is known for eating inexperienced Hollywood stars alive, and so Hathaway's debut has been eagerly watched by theater buffs and salivating critics. It certainly hasn't helped that an especially rainy June in New York as caused numerous postponements at the open-air theater. But perhaps sharing a name with Shakespeare's wife has softened some of the naysayers' attitude toward the Hollywood star. In any case, Hathaway, who has been confounding her critics since her "Princess Diaries" days, appears to be having the last laugh.

Keep reading for the critics' reactions to "Twelfth Night"...

Twelfth Night Charles Isherwood of The New York Times says "this polished staging, expertly directed by Daniel Sullivan, is the most consistently pleasurable the city has seen in at least a decade. And it is certainly one of the most accomplished Shakespeare in the Park productions the Public Theater has fielded in some time." Of Hathaway, he says: "among the many pleasures of her performances is its effortless modesty. On screen or onstage Ms. Hathaway possesses the unmistakable glow of a natural star, but she dives smoothly and with obvious pleasure into the embrace of a cohesive ensemble cast."

The Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara writes that Hathaway "is entirely at ease" with the ensemble company in a production where "everything just comes together." He also singled out Hamish Linklater, Michael Cumpsty and David Pittu for their comic supporting performances.

Echoing the praise, David Rooney of Variety writes: " It's hard to imagine a more satisfying staging of the crowd-pleasing romantic comedy than this one orchestrated by director Daniel Sullivan, a superb design team and an impeccable cast assembled around Anne Hathaway, who makes a thoroughly winning and accomplished professional Shakespeare debut." 

John Simon of Bloomberg has mostly kind words for the production: "Hathaway, though slightly shortchanging the poetic, expertly blends the boyish and the womanly in Viola." But he complained about John Lee Beatty's pastoral set: "There’s no trace of a human habitat in this place of enchantment -- best for some other play."

Impressed but not dazzled, the New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli writes: "Hathaway gives a solid, committed performance. ... She may not unearth any new nuances in the part, but it's also difficult not to bask in her contagious enthusiasm." But the reviewer noted that the production is missing "an undercurrent of wistfulness, perhaps, a certain melancholia to balance out the laughs. As a result, the show is hard to dislike -- but it's also hard to love."

Joe Dziemianowicz of The New York Daily News praised Hathaway for bringing "sweet charm and deep poignancy in her acting and (too briefly) singing." He also praised the production's nonconceptual interpretation: "Daniel Sullivan's audience-friendly mounting is an all-too-rare take on Shakespeare — one that's not overly stylized, petrified or simply memorized."

-- David Ng

Photo (top): a scene from the current production of "Twelfth Night" at Central Park's Delacorte Theater in New York, starring Anne Hathaway (far left). Photo (bottom): Hathaway and Raul Esparza. Credit: Joan Marcus

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