Twelfth Nightis one of the most popular Shakespeare comedies. The tipsy midnight revels of Sir Toby Belch, and the gender-bending comedy when Viola (cross-dressing as the handsome young Cesario) gets caught up in misdirected romantic overtures (with awkward results), have kept audiences laughing for centuries.
But there’s a dark side, too. Director Rob Salas adds a shipwreck-in-a-storm pantomime, with twins desperately struggling as their vessel breaks up, at the opening of this Davis Shakespeare Festival production. And several merry pranks launched in mid-play turn out to have unhappy consequences.
The well-chosen cast features Equity professionals, conservatory-trained talent and community actors. Matt Edwards (as Duke Orsino), Susanna Risser (Countess Olivia) and Kristi Webb (Viola) have the vocal chops to deliver Shakespeare’s high-end comedic language in a manner that is both entertaining and understandable. And Feste (Olivia’s “fool”) becomes an accordion-playing street musician—energetic young actor Ian Hopps’ eyes sparkle as he delivers Feste’s curiously wise nonsense lines; he also sings Feste’s songs with an engaging blend of merriment and melancholy (with his squeeze box providing harmony).
The physical humor stems from the clash between the anarchic Toby (Matt K. Miller in fine form, with an omnipresent hip flask) and the pompous, puritanical Malvolio (Tim Gaffaney, ripe for his takedown in the second half). Pablo Lopez (as foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek) uses his long limbs and a long-haired wig in a goofy dance routine.
The show incorporates attractive work by designers with a university pedigree, including elaborate costumes (Roxanne Femling) suggesting mid-20th Century Italy; a multilevel grape-arbor-and-stairway set (Amanda Patt); a complex sound design (Tim Brown); and dappled night-and-day lighting (Nick Swanson). Now situated in a 325-seat indoor venue, this ambitious and increasingly professional little festival has come a long ways since its modest beginnings just a few years ago in the UC Davis Arboretum gazebo.