Definitely not a drag
Sacramento, CA 95815
There’s nothing wrong with Shakespeare done traditionally—not by a long shot—but it’s always a delight to see a company grab hold of a classic play and turn it upside down and inside out (with love, of course), thereby making it new in the best poetic sense. That is, of course, why the works of Shakespeare retain their relevance—a play like Twelfth Night pokes good fun at our perceptions and beliefs about romantic love, many of which have not changed one whit since the first Elizabeth sat on England’s throne—but it takes a brave and talented company, as well as a brave and talented director, to really do something different.
In the case of Big Idea Theatre’s Twelfth Night, set in post-storm New Orleans, both the company and director Brian Harrower have succeeded so well we’ve got nothing left but to throw beads at them.
Harrower’s vision goes beyond the typical Shakespearean cross-dressing to address gender and sexual orientation, and what might otherwise slip into panto (see review of Robin Hood in the Forest of Hogwarts: A British Panto, opposite page) instead is a light-hearted but serious-minded examination of love and attraction.
Top marks go to Sean B. O’Neal, who plays Olivia—yes, Olivia—as someone between drag queen and transwoman, a human and humane transgression of gender roles. Oh, and did we mention a wry sense of humor, complemented by a physical presence that accentuates the gender question? His Olivia is the perfect complication for Erika Weinheimer’s more traditional Viola, one that demands the sort of careful—and funny—diplomacy that Viola embodies. Smart, but with a will of steel; yes, we’re talking about both of these “ladies.”
And if O’Neal and Weinheimer offer one pas de deux of incredible comic acting, they are matched by the pairing of Eric Baldwin as the hilariously ambitious and vain Malvolio, tormented in a laugh-’til-you-cry exchange with Feste (Kirk Blackinton, who parodies Baldwin’s Malvolio with malicious glee, although, frankly, his singing and guitar playing leave something to be desired).
Of course, the comedy doesn’t end with these pairs: Toby Belch (Joel Elinwood) is a very funny Colonel Sanders-style Southern gentleman drunk, and he’s well-matched, in another gender-switch, by “Annie” Aguecheek (Laura Kaya). Their combined hijinks are heightened by their own maniacal overreaction to every possible provocation. As Orsino, Justin D. Muñoz is appropriately moon-eyed and inconstant, with his Stanley Kowalski-style bowling shirt and ’50s ducktail hair. Gina Williams shines as the smarter-than-the-rest Maria, while Dan Beard turns Antonio into a purring delight and Jacob Vuksinich’s Sebastian has the advantage of actually looking like Viola’s twin.
Add a flexible set—designed by Harrower, and including the best use of a blue tarp for a stormy shipwreck you can imagine—and some cool New Orleans music, and you’ve got a first-rate production that would no doubt have the Bard himself (or perhaps Edward de Vere) giggling like a Mardi Gras reveler.