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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Twelfth Night
Southwest Shakespeare Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Andy Cahoon, Emily Mohney, Jon L. Peacock,
and Allison Sell

Photo by Patrick Walsh
William Shakespeare's witty comedy that focuses on lost twins and a humorous love triangle, Twelfth Night, receives a solid production from Southwest Shakespeare Company. With charming characters, an abundance of mistaken identity, and several of Shakespeare's most memorable lines, including "If music be the food of love, play on," SSC's production has a wonderful cast, including an effervescent Allison Sell as Viola and a deliciously superb Emily Mohney as Olivia.

The plot follows Viola, who finds herself lost on an island and believing that her twin brother Sebastian is dead as the result of a shipwreck. She decides to disguise herself as a man for safety and ends up in the employ of the Duke Orsino, whom she quickly finds herself falling in love with him. However, Orsino is already in love with the Countess Olivia. But Olivia doesn't love Orsino and, once she meets Viola, believing she is a man, Olivia finds herself enraptured. Add to this fetching love story a comical quartet of characters who add mischief to the proceedings, along with the arrival of Sebastian on the scene, and you end up with a funny and upbeat romantic comedy.

Southwest Shakespeare Company continually uses many of the same actors in their productions and their cast for Twelfth Night is just about perfect, with everyone delivering spirited performances. Allison Sell and Emily Mohney are both excellent. Sell is exceptional in providing a wide range of emotions as she pivots between displaying the pain of Viola's unreturned love for Orsino and her disdain over the unwanted advances of Olivia. Sell never fails to deliver a nuanced, deep, and well thought out performance and her Viola is no exception. Mohney is just as good as Olivia. Her flustered looks and slightly provocative nature are perfect in enlightening the part. Like Sell, Mohney is also adept in portraying the feelings, look and body language of a woman in love. These are two characters who are passionate women and Sell and Mohney excel in their portrayals.

The comical quartet are also quite good, though they border on being somewhat broad a few times, almost tipping the comic scale of the show off its axis into a territory too much at odds with the rest of the play. The foursome—Viola's Uncle Toby Belch (Beau Heckman), her lady-in-waiting (Jamie Bauer), her Fool (Jason Steffen), and Belch's friend Andrew Aguecheek (David Dickinson)—conspire to convince Olivia's steward Malvolio (Clay Sanderson) that Olivia is in love with him. The quartet are appropriately mischievous, with Dickinson a dandy "fop," while Sanderson is the perfect comic foil as the overbearing and bossy Malvolio. Andy Cahoon brings youthful exuberance to the part of Sebastian while Jon L. Peacock and Jim Coates add a nice air of seriousness to the parts of Orsino and Antonio, the sea captain who rescues Sebastian, respectively, which nicely counterbalances the lighter tone of the comical scenes.

Director David Vining does well in achieving upbeat comical and layered serious performances that hit the required humorous and romantic notes. He has moved the time period to the late 19th century and changed the setting from the coast of the Adriatic Sea to a small Greek island. Kimb Williamson's scenic design is lush though fairly simple and Adriana Diaz's costumes are colorful and elaborate. While the sunny, aquamarine setting adds brightness to the humorous moments, the updated time and location doesn't really add much to the play, nor does it detract. Steffen adds a couple of fun songs, though they don't exactly fit into the Greek setting or time period.

Full of romance and comedy and with an easy to follow plot and identifiable characters, Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays. Southwest Shakespeare Company's production may not add much to the play with their updated Greek setting, but with an exceptional cast it still amounts to a sunny, spirited, and robust romantic comedy romp.

Twelfth Night runs through April 9th, 2016, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 480-644-6500.

David Vining: Director
Kimb Williamson: Scenic Designer
Brianna Catlin: Props
Adriana Diaz: Costume Designer
Sasha Wordlaw: Hair and Make-up Designer
Daniel Davisson: Lighting Designer
Peter Bish: Sound Designer
Andy Cahoon: Fight Choreographer/Fight Captain

Jamie Bauer: Maria, Attendant to Olivia
Andy Cahoon: Sebastian, Viola's Brother
Ben Chaussee: Valentine, and Officer
James Conway: Curio, and Officer
Jim Coates: Antonio, Sea Captain
David Dickinson: Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Beau Heckman: Sir Toby Belch, Viola's Uncle
Drew Leatham: Sea Captain, Priest, Officer, Friend of Viola
Emily Mohney: Olivia, A Countess
Jon L. Peacock: Orsino, Duke of Ilyria
Clay Sanderson: Malvolio, Steward to Olivia
Allison Sell: Viola, Sebastian's Sister
Jason Steffen: Feste
Elizabeth Von Lau: Olivia's Lady in Waiting; Valentine and Officer

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