The Arvada Center, in collaboration with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder, presents Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL, a Comedy playing now through May 27th. What do you get when you mix a double shot of love triangle, an ambitious young woman disguised as her twin brother, a pair of buffoons, one amorous fool, and one wise fool? A marvelous cocktail of romance and pathos, silliness and laughter! Shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, Viola (calling herself Cesario and passing as a man) pursues employment in the court of Duke Orsino, who is in love with bereaved Lady Olivia, who is in love with Cesario, who is in love with Duke Orsino. Got it? Good. Comedy ensues when Viola's male identity causes confusion of colossal proportions, and the jolly Sir Toby Belch calls in the clowns. TWELFTH NIGHT is long considered one of Shakespeare's best mistaken identity comedies.
Okay, we all know this Willy classic is naughty and sexually suggestive. Because of that we must add a disclaimer: this show may not be suitable for children. Now down to brass tacks. The Shakespearean verse (which can be one of the more difficult tasks to conquer as an actor) positively drips off the tongues of the capable actors gracing the stage in this production. It's as if they're having a casual, every day conversation, which makes the dialogue and plotline easy to follow. I do have one major concern that I have to point out to director Philip C. Sneed – but I must also add a caveat, of course. While this play is undoubtedly a tricky balancing act between wild farcical wit and the melancholy that often accompanies desire and mixed emotions, when the playbill title boldly announces "A Comedy," I think it should play out as such all the way to the end. This interpretation is a bit heavy on the gloom, and most of this has to do with the character of Malvolio (played solidly and ably by Timothy McCracken), who goes from inflexible, snotty servant to Lady Olivia to crazy man in the end. Typically, by the conclusion of the play, Malvolio leaves the subterranean cellar that has served as an asylum (he's been tricked and everyone thinks he's nuts) and all is revealed, but when he sees the twins (Viola and Sebastian) he goes into hysterics and flees, promising revenge. Olivia's servant Fabian goes to calm him down and all ends well in true Shakespearean comedy style. In Arvada's interpretation, Malvolio is much, much darker and when he vows revenge in the last scene it comes off as ominous and sinister. It left me wondering if there was going to be a sequel – "Friday the 13th Night!" "Malvolio's Revenge!" "The Dark Night Rises!" Here's the thing about Will's plays – they're perfect. That's why they've been around for hundreds of years. Not so sure we should be messing with them to the extent of losing the joy Shakespeare obviously took in poking fun at things like the upper class, gender-bending, and sex. There's a part of me that enjoys challenging themes and interpretations, but I think this one should stay light, happy, and gay, as it was intended. Deal? Good.
This cast is chalk full of talent and they each bring a unique energy to their roles. Kate Berry as Viola/Cesario shines bright and magnetic and – in true GI Jane and V for Vendetta kickass fashion – she cut off her hair for this role, a bold move. Josh Robinson as Viola's twin brother Sebastian is excellent, albeit a bit too serious at times. Geoffrey Kent (Duke Orsino) and Rachel Fowler (Lady Olivia) bring witty strength to the show. Their whimsical, aristocratic naiveté plays well in the humorous moments, especially in the Big Reveal at the end. Leslie O'Carroll as Maria, Olivia's gentlewoman, is fun and flirty. The three fools – Logan Ernstthal as Olivia's tipsy uncle Sir Toby Belch, Ian Andersen as wealthy Sir Andrew Aquecheek, and Jamie Ann Romero as Fabian, Olivia's servant – all offer up an over the top funniness with their silly shenanigans, wonderful facial expressions, and expert navigation of the stage blocking. The gem in this funny bunch is Jake Walker as Feste, Olivia's jester. His sly intelligence and comfortable sex appeal seem to mock the other players, holding them up as even bigger fools. When Malvolio is set up to look like an insane fool in front of Olivia, the scene is side-splitting, but quickly turns that (aforementioned) corner into a dark place of disturbing threat.