Photograph by David Allen
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?: A Hendrixian Duke Orsino (Michael Gene Sullivan) and flower-child Cesario (Carie Kawa) bring Shakespeare to the 1960s in 'Twelfth Night.'
The Bard gets down in TheatreWorks' magical 'Twelfth Night'
By Marianne Messina
THEATREWORKS takes a magical mystery tour through Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, with the pining, infatuated Duke Orsino (Michael Gene Sullivan) looking like Jimi Hendrix. Maintaining control of the '60s conceit, director Robert Kelley's sophisticated parsing of Shakespeare focuses on lucidity. Rather than forcing too many parallels between the love generation and the lovers of Twelfth Night or between '60s politics and that of Shakespeare's England, Kelley draws from the electric-acid trappings to infuse the text with insight.
As usual in Shakespeare's stories of misdirected love—Orsino loves Olivia (Vilma Silva), who loves Cesario (Viola disguised as a "eunuch" in service to Orsino), and Viola/Cesario (Carie Kawa), of course, falls in love with Orsino—the jester is the voice of reason. And this jester, Feste (Patrick Alparone in clever motley), has lush cascading hair, plays guitar and sings enjoyable, if abbreviated, original music by Paul Gordon. Yes, Feste puts the historically accurate finger horns to his head for cuckold. But Kelley and cast offer clarity beyond the low-hanging (oops) fruit of bawdy jokes about rapiers and swords.
Olivia's freeloading, doobie-rolling Uncle Toby (Warren David Keith) immerses his words in context. He's unpacking a cooler, saying, "I hate it like an unfilled can," as he shakes an empty beer can. When Shannon Warrick's Maria tells Olivia that Orsino's messenger Cesario is "a fair young man and well appointed," she conveys, in instinctive secret girl code, that Olivia won't want to miss this fine specimen. In an often underharvested passage, Toby and Andrew Aguecheek (Darren Bridgett) drunkenly discuss obscure Renaissance dances/steps—galliard, back-trip, coranto, caper, sink-a-pace. This production gives Toby a portable radio, and as he changes stations from funk to acid-rock, Andrew dances the monkey or the swim with watery bubbles on a back screen (ah, water imagery in a play about fluid identities).
Characters deliciously invade the audience. The prim Malvolio (Ron Campbell) passes down the aisle anally spritzing air freshener. Kelley has also choreographed elaborate, superlative visual humor into the (always funny) scene in which Malvolio finds Maria's letter, planted there to deceive him into making an ass of himself. Hidden from the audience as well as from Malvolio, Feste, Toby and crew pop up, struggle, fumble whenever Malvolio turns his back. They even hum like insects until the engrossed Malvolio absently flicks the air.
Campbell delivers an incredible acting performance as Malvolio, unhurried and deliberate, dripping professorial condescension in his uptight business suit (which translates Elizabethan audiences' scorn for puritans, even poser puritans, to the scorn of '60s youth for "the man"). Silva's Olivia makes an amusing transition from aloof feminist in black-leather mini (Allison Connor, costumes) to love-struck but sexually empowered vixen. Keith rolls endless interpretive gems off Toby's stoner tongue, giving us an aging hippie, as worthy a ringleader as he is incorrigible. When the mystery tour bus whisks the cast off at play's end, the scenery dominates us with its tiers of bulbous aqua and purple psychedelic mushroom-shaped flowers, generative shapes in a voluptuous Eden (scenic design, Andrea Bechert), enough to suggest that like an expectant Twelfth Night, history must have been ovulating in the '60s.
TWELFTH NIGHT, a TheatreWorks production, plays Tuesday–Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Dec. 23 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $20–$56. (650.903.6500)
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