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Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Twelfth Night
PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Allison Altman and Jenny Latimer
Photo by Jon Gardiner
Madcap love triangles, mistaken identities and cross-dressing: These are familiar conventions in modern comedic plots. From Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot to Blake Edwards's Victor/Victoria, many owe a debt of gratitude to William Shakespeare, the playwright who perfected so many of those conventions. Twelfth Night, produced by PlayMakers Repertory Company and playing through March 19th at the Paul Green Theatre on the UNC campus, sets the stage for hilarity as it lives up to its reputation as one of Shakespeare's greatest comedies. Shakespeare may not have originated these tropes; his tale of separated twins and mistaken identity was inspired Barnabe Riche's sixteenth-century narrative of Apolonius and Silla, itself a retelling of an earlier Italian play called Gl'Ingannati. But as with so many dramatic ideas, they are particularly potent in Shakespeare's hands.

The play follows the story of a pair of twins separated in a shipwreck. Viola and Sebastian, played by PlayMakers favorites Allison Altman and Schuyler Scott Mastain, don't know the fate of the other as they are rescued separately by people who assist them in starting a new life in the coastal town of Illyria. Viola decides to disguise herself as a man to enter the service of the Duke Orsino, portrayed handsomely by Myles Bullock. Orsino is infatuated with Olivia, a perfect Jenny Latimer, who has refused the idea of happy pursuits, much less the love of the Duke. Orsino sends Viola, now Cesario, as an intermediary to profess his love to Olivia, but Olivia quickly falls for Cesario, not knowing he is really a woman in disguise. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with the Duke.

In a more comedic subplot, Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby, a deliciously funny Bradford Cover, and her handmaiden Maria, an equally funny Julia Gibson, plot to make a fool of Olivia's uptight steward Malvolio, portrayed with stalwart conviction by PlayMakers regular Ray Dooley. With the help of Feste, Olivia's fool for hire, performed by the multi-talented Michael Keyloun, and another hopeful suitor, Sir Andrew, portrayed with attention-grabbing silliness of the likes of Dick Van Dyke by Geoff Culbertson, they convince Malvolio that Olivia has romantic feelings toward him and watch the poor man go off the rails. Rounding out the company are David Adamson and Tristan Parks in multiple supporting roles.

One of the great pleasures of seeing the work of Shakespeare on the stage is to hear how words written over four hundred years ago lend themselves to modern interpretation. In his PlayMakers directorial debut, Jerry Ruiz has done a fine job updating the material. This production is set on a Mediterranean estate in 1959, and a highlight is the beautiful scenic design by Tim Mackabee, also making his PlayMakers debut. Mackabee drew inspiration from the work of famed lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons and from the films of Federico Fellini to create a setting ideal for romance, drinking, and all things luxurious. Anne Kennedy's costuming adds to the aesthetic, capturing the subtleties (and, at times, not-so-subtleties) of time and place. Composer Jack Herrick, a Triangle native and member of the Red Clay Ramblers, has composed sublime settings for Shakespeare's lyrics, providing lovely touches of humor and light-heartedness, excellently delivered by Michael Keyloun's character Feste. Though PlayMakers is known for its attention to detail, at the performance I attended there were a couple of odd and significantly noticeable miscues with music and sound.

Though Twelfth Night seems to want to gravitate around the story of the separated twins, Viola and Sebastian, their plot, by no fault of this production, is somewhat overtaken by the comedic subplots. The secondary characters provide some of the most memorable moments of the production. Whether it be the limber movements of the clownish Sir Andrew, portrayed hilariously by Culbertson, the drunken hysterics of Cover's Sir Toby, or the stoic seriousness of Dooley's pompous Malvolio, this is a romantic circus, in which the clowns are the true stars of the show.

Quibbles aside, there is no better way to celebrate the impending arrival of spring than with this refreshing take on an old classic that celebrates young love in bloom and the magic of possibility.

Twelfth Night is presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company through March 19, 2017, at the Paul Green Theatre at UNC's Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill, NC. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-962-7529.

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Jerry Ruiz
Scenic Design: Tim Mackabee
Costume Design: Anne Kennedy
Lighting Design: Porsche McGovern
Composer: Jack Herrick
Sound Design: Anna Warda Alex

Orsino: Myles Bullock
Curio/ Sir Andrew: Geoff Culbertson
Valentine/ Antonio: Tristan Parks
Viola: Allison Altman
Captain/ Priest: David Adamson
Sir Toby: Bradford Cover
Maria: Julia Gibson
Feste: Michael Keyloun
Olivia: Jenny Latimer
Malvolio: Ray Dooley
Sebastian: Schuyler Mastain