Theatre Review: Play on! Twelfth Night

COMEDY! ROMANCE! ACTION! DRAMA! BUT ESPECIALLY COMEDY! Plays in the Park’s production of Twelfth Night has it all. Above,  Maria, Fabian and Sir Toby prank Malvolio. Photo courtesy Plays in the Park

COMEDY! ROMANCE! ACTION! DRAMA! BUT ESPECIALLY COMEDY! Plays in the Park’s production of Twelfth Night has it all. Above, Maria, Fabian and Sir Toby prank Malvolio. Photo courtesy Plays in the Park

Lauraine Leblanc
Mad River Union

REDWOOD PARK – “Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers,” remarks Duke Orsino (played by Plays in the Parks Executive Director Calder Johnson), gesticulating to the overshadowing canopy of conifers in Arcata’s Redwood Park in the first act of Twelfth Night. Orsino speaks true, as SkyClad Theater’s annual productions of Shakespeare in the park mature with this third offering.

Following on the heels of two larger productions – 2013’s As You Like It and last year’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamTwelfth Night is a smaller, more intimate show. Playing in a simple, rustic set (designed by Brian Butler) and before a small audience, the cast sometimes directly addresses the crowd, blurring the division of stage, time and reality to great effect, something only possible in this type of staging.  By no means, however, has this intimacy produced a staid, stuffy play, no, this Twelfth Night is an antic frolic of the best sort.

Twelfth Night is a trifling comedy typical of Shakespeare, full of mistaken identities, cross-dressing, pranks, bawdy humor, pompous asses, fools (in and out of motley) and, of course, culminating with weddings. With two concurrent story lines, action, romance, comedy and drama, the play, in sum, is as perfect an entertainment for a summer’s night as for a twelfth night.

As separated twins Viola and Sebastian, Kimberly Haile and Charlie Heinberg are a good matched set – the actors, unrelated, even share a birthday! Haile carries most of the play, not only trippingly delivering a vast number of lines, but wordlessly expressing a full gamut of emotions – longing, horror, terror, confusion, among others, with both pathos and humor.

The two others in what turns out to be a love quadrangle, Duke Orsino and Olivia, are played by Johnson and Jo Kuzelka. Johnson is likeably pompous, anchoring the cast. Kuzelka melts from frosty haughtiness to desperate infatuation with hilarious pratfalls while still managing to maintain Olivia’s innate dignity – no mean feat.

But the true comedy of this play is in the secondary storyline, with Olivia’s household conspiring to make a fool of the haughty steward, Malvolio (Scott Osborn). Osborn takes on this most coveted role with gusto, never letting on that he is aware of being the butt of the joke. Alyssa Rempel makes Maria a sympathetic ringleader of the pranksters, elfin Adrianne Ralsten an adorably drunken instigator and Bob Service a magnificently drunken Sir Toby Belch.

In the role of flaxen-haired Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Montel Vander Horck III pulls out all the stops. He truly can cut a caper, and as the play progresses, he produces a Sir Andrew that is a lovable loser whose hilarious antics often upstage everyone else – and given the strength of all the cast, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Finally, back to Feste, whom Needham plays as the wisest of the lot. Needham sings (with a lovely voice), dances, narrates, even literally plays the ass, all with a nod and a wink to the audience, letting us all know that not only is he in on the joke, but that he’s taking us all there with him.

And that is the essence of this beautifully crafted production. Kudos to director David Hamilton for keeping things simple, playing up the mayhem while allowing the cast to show a lot of heart. Plays in the Park’s Twelfth Night is the kind of intimate theatrical experience that can only be created by a small talented troupe playing under the stars to an enraptured audience. At the same time, it’s a hilarious comedy that will appeal to all ages; bring your kids and your Philistine friends who think they don’t like Shakespeare.

Twelfth Night plays at Arcata’s Redwood Park every Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. through Sept. 5. The play runs two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Dress warmly and bring a blanket (or purchase one there); beer, wine and snacks are available for purchase, plus complimentary hot beverages.

Admission is $12/$10 students and seniors, with additional discounts for advance purchase at the City of Arcata’s Recreation Division. cityofarcata.org/rec, playsinthepark.net

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