Also see Sharon's review of A Little Night Music
Director Jason King Jones has created an Illyria that looks strikingly like modern day Los Angeles - more specifically, Venice Beach. He is aided substantially by Trevor Norton's gorgeous lighting, which reflects off Katia Kaplun's set to create: a sunny day at the beach, a calm peaceful dusk ripe for romance, a dark night where malevolent plots grow out of control, and a soft early morning dawn where the truth can be revealed in the light of day.
Harold Surratt steals the show as Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle. Surratt plays Sir Toby as the quintessential laid-back beach bum, and it works perfectly. But Surratt also understands the layers of Sir Toby. He's not just a drunken sot; he's also intelligent, perceptive and (deep down) knows when he has pushed something too far. Surratt's Sir Toby is matched by Kila Kitu's Maria, the maid who tries to silence Sir Toby's revelries but is human enough to want to take part.
Sir Toby has two other partners in crime: Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a useless-except-for-his-money knight; and Feste, a musical fool. In this production, Sir Toby, Maria and Feste are all played by African-Americans, and Sir Andrew is played by Bryan Cogman as the stereotypical geeky white guy trying to party with the cool kids. Cogman enters trying to ride a skateboard and wearing big, nerdy knee protectors. And when the others freely dance to an improvised song, Cogman's Sir Andrew tries too hard to fit in. It's a perfect interpretation of Shakespeare's awkward knight. Cedric Hayman is delightful as the guitar-playing Feste, setting the relaxed tone for the whole production, and still managing to sneak in words of wisdom that are the hallmark of a good fool.
And then there's Tim Choate as Malvolio, the object of Sir Toby's contempt. Choate's Malvolio first appears in a formal tailcoat and white gloves. The essence of pomposity, he speaks with a snooty accent that displays his disdain for everyone around him. Choate also takes his time establishing Malvolio's hubristic desire to be husband to Olivia, rather than merely one of her servants. Frequently, productions of Twelfth Night show Sir Toby as a hard-partying lout who doesn't know when to stop, and Malvolio as a well-meaning (if somewhat priggish) servant who tries to put the brakes on Sir Toby for Olivia's sake. But Shakespeare Festival/LA has the balance right - it is Malvolio who is overreaching, and he needs to be taken down a peg by Sir Toby. Once the audience's sympathies are in line with Sir Toby, the remainder of Malvolio's storyline snaps right into place.
Judith Moreland plays Olivia, the woman who is supposed to be in charge of the household where all this merriment is taking place, and her early interactions with the others suggest a woman who is patiently talking down the idiots in whose company she has unfortunately found herself. The love triangle, in which she falls for the young boy (Viola in disguise) the Duke has sent to woo her, serves not so much as the heart of the play, but simply a silly distraction to keep Olivia busy so she can't control the goings-on in her house. There's no real love played by Moreland, Bridget Flanery (as Viola) and Geoffrey Lower (as Duke Orsino). The three throw around beautiful romantic lines and each claim to be in the throes of desperate, unrequited love, but it's all for naught. Olivia's mistake in falling for Viola-in-drag is played for nothing more than laughs. The essence of this Twelfth Night is happening elsewhere.
Twelfth Night plays through July 18 at Downtown L.A.'s Pershing Square, and at South Coast Botanical Garden from July 22 - August 1. For tickets and information, see www.shakespearefestivalla.org.
Shakespeare Festival/LA and the National Endowment for the Arts present William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Directed by Jason King Jones; Scenic Design Katia Kaplun; Lighting Design Trevor Norton; Costume Design Linda C. Davisson; Sound Design Jon Gottlieb & Jake Davis; Composer/Musical Director David O; Text Coach Dani Bedau; Fight Director Randy Kovitz; Producer Sara Adelman; Production Stage Manager Josiane M. Lemieux.
Photo by Craig Schwartz