Ashland Review: Twelfth Night

Mar 29, 2016

Shakespeare’s much loved comedy, “Twelfth Night,” is a joyful choice for the new season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
According to director Christopher Liam Moore, joyful is the operating word for the play. It begins with a shipwreck and the presumed death of Viola’s brother Sebastian.

Elijah Alexander, Gina Daniels and Sara Bruner
Credit photo Jenny Graham

In this version, set in 1930s Hollywood, the land of Illyria is transformed into Illyria Studios.
That’s where Viola, disguised as a boy, washes up and takes a job with Count Orsino, an overly silly director/producer. Using the name Cesario, Viola helps Orsino woo the film star Olivia, who also mourns a dead brother. Over the course of the play, these two women gradually move beyond grief to find joy.
The 1930s setting allows for a sweeping staircase, a pianist onstage, swimming pool scenes, and ravishing costumes for Gina Daniels, looking gorgeous as Olivia.
The concept isn’t entirely credible, however. An unusual choice is to have Sara Bruner play both Viola and Sebastian, often in back-to-back scenes. No costume changes distinguish them and sometimes we don’t know which character she’s supposed to be.
Many other scenes do give us joy. When Cesario has to fight a duel with Danforth Comins as cowardly Andrew Aguecheek, their brilliantly choreographed combat starts timidly with swords, and evolves to sparring with calla lilies.
Feste the fool, played by Rodney Gardiner, last year’s Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls,” steals every scene, whether punning or playing a harmonica. My advice? Keep your eyes on Gardiner. He’s sure to be doing something funny.
In “Twelfth Night” some find love and some are thwarted in love. Daniel Parker as Sir Toby Belch finds love with Maria the servant, played smartly by Kate Mulligan. Others lose their original heart’s desire, but find a replacement.
Ted Deasy brings complexity to pompous Malvolio, Olivia’s steward who secretly loves her and forfeits his dignity as a result. Luckily, he recovers in time to tap dance with the entire cast in a breathtaking musical finale.
We know that the course of true love never did run smooth, but a good tap dance delights everyone.