Farce be with you
It’s possible that both Superman and ’70s sitcom Three’s Company took cues from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In the former, it would explain how a mere clothing change could be a disguise, and in the latter, it would explain the misunderstandings in every episode. This Shakespearean comedy, which you can catch at Sand Harbor as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, is certainly a hilarious, slapstick comedy that could even capture laughs from those who aren’t big on the Bard.
Under the direction of producing artistic director Charles Fee, Twelfth Night is traditional Shakespeare—no modernized twists. But who needs ’em when you have a story as rich in character and setting as this?
The story opens on Viola (Laura Welsh Berg), a woman who has just been separated from her twin brother, Sebastian (Sonny Valicenti), during a shipwreck and now finds herself upon the shore of Illyria, in the Adriatic. She learns that Illyria’s Duke Orsino (Alex Knox) pines for Lady Olivia (Carie Kawa), a woman who is lately in mourning over the deaths of her father and brother, and who has refused to see anyone. Viola contrives a plot: She will dress as a man, use her understanding of feminine wiles to convince the Duke she can help him win Olivia, and secure gainful employment as his page.
It works, and Viola, going by the name Cesario, gains entry to Olivia’s chambers and urges the lady to take Orsino’s hand. She’s so good at it that Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Fortunately, Sebastian appears in the second half, giving Olivia what she wants—Cesario’s good looks but in a man’s body. This leaves Viola to take Olivia’s place as the Duke’s true love.
Meanwhile, as is typical in Shakespearean comedies, side plots involve jesters, servants, fools and drunkards. First there’s Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Aled Davies), who, in case you can’t tell by his name, is a bit of a drinker. A bit too much, in fact—he’s been warned by Olivia’s steward, Malvolio (Lynn Robert Berg), that if he doesn’t mend his ways, he’s out on his ear. Not chastened in the least, Sir Toby instead opts for further folly, cooking up a cruel practical joke to play on the pompous Malvolio. He employs his friends, the simpering Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ian Gould), another of Olivia’s suitors; Maria (Lynn Allison), Olivia’s gentlewoman; and Feste (Jeffrey C. Hawkins), a jester in Olivia’s house, in the plot to convince Malvolio that Olivia loves him, in order to get him to behave like a crazy man. This subplot, though completely absurd and not at all important to the main story, is where most of the show’s great laughs come from.
And laugh I did, all the way through, thanks to the talents of its cast full of professional actors, many of whom, including Gould, are members of the Actors’ Equity Association. Gould himself is marvelous as a fool. Additionally, Berg’s over-the-top prig Malvolio is comic genius, and Davies’ physical comedy as a drunk is authentic and wonderful.
A Gipsy Kings score gives the play a spicy Spanish feeling that seems right at home in Illyria, and makes an excellent backdrop to the beautifully choreographed fight scenes and the flamenco dancer (Kate Atack) whose brief, gorgeous performances indicate story shifts.
The show’s subtitle is “What You Will,” which basically means “whatever.” That should tell you something about the preposterous storylines, the contrived love stories and the extremely ridiculous characters—all of which you’ll love. Twelfth Night is farce at its very best, and on a midsummer’s night, that’s pretty much all I’m looking for.