The 12th night of Christmas, in Tudor England, was a night marked by social unrest; peasants superseded their landlords, servants were the betters of their masters, law subsided to festivity and the lines of gender were crossed. This immoderate celebration was dubbed the “Feast of Fools.” All things considered, it’s easy to understand Shakespeare’s reasoning in titling his 1602 comedy “Twelfth Night.”
Though a fitting name, “Twelfth Night” was not actually the play’s original title; it was first called “What You Will.”
Indiana Festival Theatre brings a superb production of “Twelfth Night” (or “What You Will”) to the Wells-Metz Theatre this month as its annual Shakespearean comedy. Starting next weekend, “Twelfth Night” will play in rotating repertory with William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” based on the story of Helen Keller. These productions combine the talents of IU’s best student actors with those of seasoned professional actors.
“Twelfth Night” incorporates all the aforementioned aspects of the “Feast of Fools.” The play’s primary plot revolves around Viola (Hillary Clemens), a shipwrecked young lady, swapping genders and disguising herself as a page to Duke Orsino (Ian Martin). Additionally, echoing the power reversals of the “Feast of Fools,” it is the characters of lower stations driving the plot forward.
Not yet 20 minutes into the play, a dicey love triangle has already developed. Viola loves Duke Orsino, who thinks she is a boy, Duke Orsino loves Countess Olivia (Jenny McKnight), who will have none of him, and Countess Olivia loves Viola, also duped by the disguise. As if this weren’t enough, Shakespeare throws a new wrench into the works: Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (David Kortemeier), is attempting to set Olivia up with his degenerate companion Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ben Abbott).
To add a little more fun, Shakespeare brings in a wild subplot involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Olivia’s maid Maria (Mara Lefler) conspiring to undo Olivia’s fastidious and egotistical steward Malvolio (Rob Johansen).
Under the inventive and masterful direction of Jonathan Michaelsen, the show’s actors achieve profound comedy and comic profundity. Rob Johansen brought the house down with his impassioned portrayal of Malvolio, the butt of the play’s grand joke. Johansen effectively highlighted Malvolio’s tragic flaws: arrogance and asininity.
Jenny McKnight was convincing as the love-struck Countess Olivia. David Kortemeier and Ben Abbott were hilarious as the carousing duo of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.
Nat Zegree played Feste, Olivia’s jester, as well as providing the show’s music. Wielding on various occasions a guitar, a drum and a melodica, Zegree performed original music for scene transitions and the scenes themselves. At times, he was assisted by violinist Chad Singer. In his acting role, Zegree made the fool wise, quirky and lively.
Tim Pyles (Fabian), Ian Martin (Duke Orsino), David Gordon-Johnson (Sebastian), Mara Lefler (Maria), Adam St. John (Antonio) and Hillary Clemens (Viola) rounded out the principal cast of “Twelfth Night” with comfortable yet energetic performances. The show had no weak links.
Scenic designer Reuben Lucas crafted a huge, beautiful set for “Twelfth Night.” Linda Pisano’s costumes were sometimes regal, sometimes oceanic and always appropriate for the character.
Michaelsen’s production is fast-paced and hysterical. For all the mistaken identities, there is potential for confusion. However, the actors color and chew the Bard’s language clearly enough that audience members needn’t be Shakespeare scholars to follow the story or get the jokes.
Attendees might choose to arrive slightly early for live pre-show music and a little painless audience participation.
To catch an uproarious and moving performance, make your way to Seventh and Jordan this month to see Indiana Festival Theatre’s exquisite production of “Twelfth Night.”
Reprinted with permission from the Herald Times