Photo Courtesy of Ken Blaze

Lynn Robert Berg (center) as Malvolio, surround by Tom Ford (left) as Sir Agueecheek and Aled Davies as Sir Belch.



November 3, 2016

Be not afraid of ‘Twelfth Night’ at Playhouse Square

Ah, Shakespeare.
The mere name sparks images of tragic drama and the tedium of sitting through a production of it.   But the Bard wrote more comedies than dramas and history plays and “Twelfth Night” is one of the most popular and accessible, especially as performed by the Great Lakes Theater company under Drew Barr’s direction. 

The story begins as Viola (Cassandra Bissell) washes up on the coast of Illyria, mistakenly believing that her twin brother, Sebastian (Jonathan Christopher MacMillan), has drowned in the shipwreck. For protection, she dresses as a man named Cesario who finds work as a servant for Duke Orsino (Juan Rivera Lebron).

As Viola falls for her master, she is sent to woo the Duke’s own love interest, Olivia (Christine Webber). Olivia denies Orsino but fancies Cesario/Viola, whom she believes to be a man. While a love triangle complicates the lives of all, hilarity ensues as the return of Viola’s fraternal twin adds to the melee.

Set designer Russell Methany creates a once beautiful estate that, like the hope of our characters, is now decrepit and decaying. Bathed in enchanting hues of blue and green by lighting designer Rick Martin and further lit with candelabras, the set collaborates beautifully with Kim Soreson’s slightly gothic, sexually ambiguous costuming.

The play contains sharp parallels to Shakespeare’s loss of his own son, who was survived by his twin sister. And the foreboding scenic design enhances the feeling of longing for something that can never be obtained. But while the mourning of lost siblings and a suffering from unrequited love drives the plot, Barr and his cast successfully capture all the play’s often outrageous humor.

In particular, the classically trained and wonderfully cast actors master Shakespeare’s intricate and beautiful language and punch all his punchlines, fostering life and humor into centuries-old dialogue. All of the performances exude an endearing presence, with the exception of MacMillan’s Sebastian who stands apart as a rough, angry figure and unnecessarily so.

While the main characters are consumed by loss and lust, the supporting characters – particularly Sir Toby (Aled Davies) and the purple-clad Sir Andrew (Tom Ford) – keep the play lighthearted.  Ford perfectly embodies the absurdity of his character, who is even more of a fool than the designated fool character, Feste (a delightful M.A. Taylor).

These three share an amusing camaraderie, creating a playful subplot that shoulders the majority of the laughs.  Another concerns the priggish steward Malvolio (Lynn Robert Berg), who is tricked by Toby and friends into believing that love awaits him if he dresses in drag. The audience is left gasping for breath as the yellow-stockinged and corset-clad Malvolio struts around the stage. 

Rather than running away at the mention of Shakespeare, run as fast as you can to this production at the Hanna Theatre just a few blocks west of campus. 


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