Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Twelfth Night
The Old Globe

Rutina Wesley and Sara Topham
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It contains a potential mix of sly comedy, outright farce, and romance, including lots of music, a little adventure, and more than a little melancholy. It spoofs the conventions of love and wooing, puritanical ideas, class differences (dull masters matched against clever servants), and one of the Bard's enduring fascinations, gender confusion. The entertainment is light hearted, and there's even a happy ending, sort of.

San Diego's Old Globe has selected Twelfth Night as one of its two outdoor Shakespeare offerings this summer (the other is The Comedy of Errors). Artistic Director Barry Edelstein has tapped Rebecca Taichman to direct. Ms. Taichman staged a memorable version of Twelfth Night at Washington, DC's Shakespeare Theatre Company and at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. She brings some of the same ideas to this thoroughly enjoyable version.

Ms. Taichman has also brought along two indispensable collaborators from the earlier productions: scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind. They're working outdoors here, so the basic ideas need to be revised accordingly. But Mr. Hernandez provides the nautical theme that begins the play and continues with references to water throughout in a unit design that becomes a variety of locales with the addition of strategically placed props. Mr. Akerlind is his close collaborator, providing not only an evolving wash for the large stage area but also lighting the frequent interaction that occurs amongst the audience. The other close collaborator is new: costume designer David Israel Reynoso. Ms. Taichman's vision requires careful color coordination, and Mr. Reynoso responds with resplendent outfits that tip off the exact current mental state of each character.

Ms. Taichman is interested in how single women managed for themselves in Shakespeare's day, and she has three primary examples to work with. Viola (Rutina Wesley), a member of the nobility in her own land, has washed ashore in a different dominion following a shipwreck. She assumes that her twin brother Sebastian (LeRoy McClain), has died at sea, and knowing that she is unsafe in a place where no one knows her and no man protects her, dons her brother's clothing and, using the name Cesario, makes her way to the court of Duke Orsino (Terrence Archie) to present her male self as a potential courtier. The fact that the duke immediately hires her indicates that Voila's choice was an excellent one.

Enter Olivia (Sara Topham), a second single woman. She is single because of the recent deaths of both her husband and her brother. She also has no male protectors, but she has considerable means, including an estate and servants. She is, however, vulnerable to a powerful man such as Orsino, who would make advances that it would be politically difficult for Olivia to turn down. Olivia handles this problem by remaining in mourning and making herself unavailable to Orsino.

The third single woman is Maria (Amy Aquino), one of Olivia's servants. As a servant, Maria has no male protection, so she's allowed Olivia's kinsman Sir Toby Belch (Tom McGowan) to woo her. She disapproves of some of Sir Toby's rowdy behavior, but she's also willing to conspire with him to gain his favor.

With these three central characters in place, the plot revolves around their actions. Viola/Cesario is dispatched by Orsino to woo Olivia on his behalf, only to have Olivia become enamored with her wooer instead. In the process, Viola has fallen for Orsino. Meanwhile, Maria conspires with Sir Toby, his knave, Andrew Aguecheek (Tyler Kent), a young servant named Fabian (Daniel Petzold), and Feste, the fool (Manoel Felciano) to bring down Malvolio (Robert Joy), the disapproving chief of Olivia's household.

Given the prominence of the women in Ms. Taichman's interpretation, it is no surprise that the actresses playing them fare best. Ms. Wesley, in Sebastian's royal blue uniform, displays a comic mixture of boyish earnestness and fear of being found out. Ms. Aquino, decked out in black, is more slender and severe than many Marias I've seen. She's in control and knows just what she's doing. Ms. Topham plays Olivia as a warm and earthy woman who hides those qualities to keep Orsino at bay. When they are released, they produce great pleasure—her exclamation, "How wonderful," near the play's end deserves to get the biggest laugh of the night and does (you'll have to see the show to find out why).

The men who fare best are those who are able to play with the expectations of who they will be. Prime among those is Mr. Felciano, who not only delivers the fool with glee but who also plays a mean violin and inserts some musical jokes at key points. Another is Mr. Joy's Malvolio, who comes across as managerial, rather than puritanical, and is thus much more of a victim of the tricks played on him than a tyrant who deserved his comeuppance.

Clearly, Ms. Taichman had a hand in these choices, and while I found them to be admirable, I also found that they put a mute on humor that is, in many productions, loudly trumpeted. That mute makes this Twelfth Night a considered pleasure, but a pleasure nevertheless.

The Old Globe presents Twelfth Night, performing nightly, with some exceptions, through July 26, 2015, at 8pm in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets may be purchased by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Directed by Rebecca Taichman with Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Design), David Israel Reynoso (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design), Acme Sound Partners (Sound Design), Todd Almond (Original Music), Chase Brock (Choreographer), Miranda Hoffman (Additional Costume Design), Ursula Meyer (Voice and Text Coach), Jim Carnahan, CSA (Casting), and Samantha Greene (Production Stage Manager).

The cast includes Amy Aquino (Maria), Terence Archie (Orsino), Manoel Felciano (Feste), Robert Joy (Malvolio), Patrick Kerr (Andrew Aguecheek), LeRoy McClain (Sebastian), Tom McGowan (Sir Toby Belch), Sara Topham (Olivia), and Rutina Wesley (Viola), with Old Globe/USD M.F.A. Program actors Amy Blackman (Ensemble), Lindsay Brill (Ensemble), Charlotte Bydwell (Ensemble), Lowell Byers (Antonio, Sea Captain), Ally Carey (Ensemble), Jamal Douglas (2nd Officer), Tyler Kent (Curio), Makha Mthembu (Ensemble), Daniel Petzold (Fabian), Megan M. Storti (Ensemble), Nathan Whitmer (Priest), and Patrick Zeller (Valentine, 1st Officer).

Photo credit: Jim Cox

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- Bill Eadie

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