The Guthrie Theater’s new production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is outrageous fun from start to end. Featuring a cast of 10 local artists who bring this nearly 420 year old play to fresh and vibrant life. The Guthrie has a long tradition of staging Shakespeare. Recent years have seen wonderful productions of Romeo and Juliet and As you Like It. This new production of twelfth Night is my favorite. It had been years since I’d seen a production and it took a little while to refresh my mind as the play proceeded. I highly recommend those new to the show read the Synopsis in the program before the play begins. It’s one of those Shakespeare comedies that involves shipwrecks and twins, if you don’t know the basic plot you may find yourself as confused as the characters in the play are. But rest assured, even if you are lost, you are still in for a treat.
Twelfth Night typically begins after there’s been a shipwreck which has separated twins Sebastian and Viola. In the Guthrie’s production, we get to see the shipwreck, which is well handled. But the real start of the play is a treat too sweet to spoil. Viola disguises herself as a man and enters into the service of Duke Orsino. The Duke sends Viola, now called Cesario, to woo the wealthy Countess Olivia on his behalf. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, while Cesario…I mean Viola, has fallen in love with Orsino. There are two other suitors who wish to become Olivia’s husband, Sir Andrew and a servant Malvolio. Remember there is an identical, though opposite gendered twin out there too and you can imagine the antics that will ensue. Add to this three characters that seem soley bent on creating mischief and misleading people. Throw in the Mr. Furley and the Roper’s and you’d have the makings of every single episode of Three’s Company.
A cast this good it’s hard to single out individuals, but my favorites are mostly made up of characters not mentioned above. Sarah Jane Agnew plays Maria, Olivia’s Lady in waiting who plots with local legend Sally Wingert’s Sir Toby, to make a fool out of Malvolio. I found my eyes drawn to both whenever they took the stage. Olivia’s fool Feste is played by Luverne Seifert. Seifert in addition to his unexpected first scene also contributes to one of the major pluses of the production, he sings, and well. One of the unexpected joys of this production is the music that has been infused into the proceedings. Wingert’s Sir Toby is behind Sir Andrews wooing attempts. Joy Dolo portrays Sir Andrew with the intelligence of Lou Costello and the fashion sense of Elton John.
The Costume Designer Ann Closs-Farley efforts are a highlight of the show. From the outrageous outfits of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby’s wild suits to Olivia’s sexy purple dress and Feste’s fool outfits, reminiscent of a clown. The set design by Naomi Dawson, with a water pond in the center and dock-like structures creates a unique environment. Aided by Yi Zhao’s Lighting Design and Sartje Pickett’s Sound Design and musical compositions, this is a well rounded and cohesive production. The use of balloons at several different points works quite well visually. The aforementioned shipwreck is particularly well handled, with the stage proving to be deeper than suspected. The use of ropes and the deck on the outermost portions of the deck was particularly effective. Credit is due to Movement Director Carl Flink particularly for staging a thrilling shipwreck and for that opening I don’t want to spoil. Fight Director Aaron Preusse also does strong work, they is a physicality to this production that makes it feel light and alive. I admire Director Tom Quaintance’s willingness to try something so bold in terms of restructuring the play so we see the shipwreck. The entire production is filled with moments of glee and self awareness. There are many instances of characters playing to the audience or even with them. That first scene really does set the stage for what to expect, which is the unexpected.
Twelfth Night plays through March 22nd for more information and to purchase tickets please visit https://www.guthrietheater.org/ .