Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Twelfth Night
Ross Valley Players
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, You Mean to Do Me Harm and Baby Doll and Jeanie's review of Church and State

Michel Benton Harris, Sarah McKereghan,
and Steve Price

Photo by Robin Jackson
Shakespeare's much-loved, laugh-out-loud comedy Twelfth Night shines in a charming and clever staging at Ross Valley Players. Director Jennifer Le Blanc has assembled a fine cast of seasoned comic actors to breathe delightful fresh air into a well-known script. It's a good choice for the first-ever Shakespeare in RVP's 89-year history. Even if you've seen the show before, you will find much to enjoy and laugh over in this playful, entertaining production.

If you've never seen the show, the story may sound familiar: Twins, separated by shipwreck, each presumed dead by the other. The girl, Viola (Robyn Grahn), disguises herself in her brother's garb and thus posing as a man finds work in the palace of Duke Orsino (Jackson Currier), where her main employment is to take missives of love to Countess Olivia (Melanie Bandera-Hess), even though the dame has sworn off men while she mourns her brother's death, and Viola herself has fallen for the Duke. Naturally, as soon as Olivia sets eyes on Cesario (Viola in disguise), the plot of mistaken identities spins into high gear.

In another part of Olivia's estate, her cousin Sir Toby (Steve Price) leads drunken revels with his rich and gullible friend Sir Andrew (Michel Benton Harris), the wandering fool Feste (Sarah McKereghan), henchwoman Fabian (Sonia Gambhir), and Olivia's maid Maria (Mary Ann Rodgers). When their happy rowdiness is spoiled by Olivia's stern steward Malvolio (Malcolm B. Rodgers), revenge is concocted, ensuring more fun and games.

If you fear you can't understand Shakespearean language, don't worry—the previous paragraphs are all you need to enjoy this likable and often hilarious play. There's a reason why this particular work of Shakespeare's returns to local stages so frequently, being such a favorite of both actors and audience. Its undeniable appeal and farcical exuberance will no doubt prevail for another century or two.

This production takes a few opening scenes to get warmed up, but by the time Viola/Cesario gets to Olivia's estate, it really kicks in. Grahn's Viola is suitably wide-eyed and winsome, ultimately an engaging and sympathetic character. Bandera-Hess delivers a strong, haughty Olivia, yet believably succumbs to her heart. Currier's Orsino is clearly used to getting his way and has convincing scenes with Grahn, but occasional choices in staging diminish his position.

Price as Sir Toby wins us over with fresh takes on familiar lines, but his physicality seems at odds with his debauchery—he leans at a rakish tilt, defying gravity and drink. His comic instincts are good, and well-matched by Rodgers' Maria and Gambhir's Fabian. Harris' foppish Sir Andrew falls too much in the background initially, but rises to the fray in some brilliant fight scenes with Grahn. McKereghan delivers a wry, wisecracking Feste—love the horn—but shouldn't be made to sing with a hard-to-hear gramophone.

Malcolm B. Rodgers as Malvolio almost steals the show, as is appropriate, first in his superiority and later in his arrogant, ludicrous posturing. Ian Wilcox as Viola's late-to-the-party twin brother Sebastian looks and acts the part well, but is often hard to understand. Much fun is made of the height difference between him and Grahn.

Set design by Tom O'Brien is a lovely, early-20th century treatment of the Barn stage, with excellent use of the aisles and all entrances, easily conjuring many different locations. Simple set pieces moved quickly on and off keep the pacing up to speed. Costumes by Michael A. Berg are mostly attractive and apt, with the exception of Price's suit, ill-fitting for both actor and character. Elena Wright's combat choreography is inspired silliness, absolutely wonderful stuff. Music design by Billie Cox and sound design by Bruce Vieira work together for nice complementary touches. There's no credit in the program for the melodies of the many songs; most are fine, although the use of a somber tune for the closing number drags down the otherwise cheerful ending.

Overall, this is a merry evening's entertainment guaranteed to chase away daily doldrums—you'll leave the theatre laughing over some of the priceless moments in the show, remembering them long after show's end.

Twelfth Night, through October 21, 2018, by Ross Valley Players, at The Barn Theater at Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Tickets $12.00-$27.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 415-456-9555.