Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ — a Review of a Post-Modern Staging

Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is all about love and the disorder it brings, the chaos of the human spirit when seen in the shape of a heart. It’s a wonderful comedy, both light and deep in pathos on an intellectual and emotional level, and bustling with puns and the cleverest of humors.
As for its house-of-mirrors plotting, “Twelfth Night” isn’t the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to follow. There’s a tart complexity to it, from the gender-blending of the role playing to the ideas the play contains, and relieving confusion should be one of a director’s first priorities.

At UC Irvine, director Shelley Souza doesn’t always delineate what Shakespeare provides as well as she could.

And her “post-modern” version, which amounts to a mingling of classic gestures with an abstractly inconsistent point-of-view, doesn’t help to clear the waters.

Still, there is much to like in this lively production, which continues through Saturday. It’s fun–not always that smart, but always unbridled and kicky. Souza misses some of the opportunities, both comic and otherwise, but plumbs many as well. Best yet, she uses youthful invention to come up with a few of her own.

I could have done without the Ricky Ricardo conga line shenanigans when those dangerous clowns Sir Toby Belch (Joel Goldes), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gerard Babb) and Feste (Elihu Goretsky) break into song. But the same trio’s antics behind a few skinny tree branches, as they trick the self-important Malvolio (Tamiko Washington), were a pleasure to watch.

Those unfamiliar with the play may have had a hard time understanding why Malvolio was being hoodwinked, but the humor came through.

It helps to know that Malvolio is Olivia’s (Jane Spigarelli’s) major-domo. Olivia is loved by Duke Orsino (Michael Robinson). In turn, Olivia digs Orsino’s page Cesario, who’s really Viola (Stacy Ross), a young woman disguised in men’s wear. Viola loves Orsino. Then there’s Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (Joe Wein), who loves Olivia. See, everybody needs a score card.

One of the production’s strengths is the well-spoken cast, not a minor accomplishment when tackling Shakespeare. Some of the actors rush their lines, but there’s a general breeziness to the proceedings that is suitable.

Ross stands out as Viola, a role that provides so many opportunities. In her first scene we are introduced to an evanescent creature, almost floating in her femininity. And then, in men’s clothing, she’s a young man who’s not quite sure of himself. Ross makes it all believable, and her comic takes have the timing that’s required.

All three of the clowns excel. Goldes’ Sir Toby is a howling, walking pinball machine, drunk on himself. Babb’s Aguecheek is a complete fool, and he knows it. Feste, the quintessential Shakespeare fool, is the joker who knows the score.There’s imagination in Stuart R. Baur’s set and Jessica Chen’s costumes, although it isn’t always plain what the wittiness means. Baur has come up with a series of minimalist constructions full of shifting classical columns and sharp angles. Chen’s costumes are eclectic, a mix of Melrose Avenue wise-guy duds, MTV flash and dinner-date elegance.
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Art Fans: For beautiful and unique imagery, please visit Aartjones Gallery.

Director’s cue: Movie lovers, you may also want to take a look at Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Casablanca. For more film and theater/play articles, please visit Nick Smithville.

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