Servants and friends are up to mischief, two households are turned upside down by fools for love, and the fool is the smartest guy in the room.
That’s the gist of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which the Brigit St. Brigit Theatre opened Monday at Joslyn Castle for a three-week, 10-show run. Director Cathy Kurz’s able cast finds many moments to shine in the music room of this 1903 baronial home, which suits the play in one way and limits it in another. More on that later.
The show’s individual parts felt like they hadn’t quite come together to form a fully satisfying whole yet on opening night. Audience reaction, particularly to the comedic scenes, was subdued early on but warmed some in the second act.
Kurz relies much more on verbal wit and less on physical comedy than a University of Nebraska at Omaha production a year and a half ago.
With its musical interludes, revelry and chaos, this feels like a holiday show, as it should. Shakespeare wrote it for Epiphany, the close of Christmas season.
Broad, silly characters such as drunken Sir Toby Belch (Brent Spencer), the none-too-bright Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jeremy Earl), their pal Fabian (Eric Salonis) and a pious and pompous household steward, Malvolio (Thomas Becker), provide broad humor. Love supplies the rest.
Orsino (Kevin Barratt), the duke, pines morosely for a countess, Olivia (Katlynn Yost), but she’s not interested.
Viola (Ashley Spessard) washes ashore after a shipwreck, fearing twin brother Sebastian (Brendan J.D. Reilly) is dead. She passes herself off as a man, Cesario, to get a job as page to Orsino.
Orsino sends Cesario to plead his love to Olivia. But Olivia only has eyes for Cesario (she buys Viola’s disguise), while Viola falls for Orsino.
Aguecheek, Belch, Fabian and a saucy maidservent, Maria (MaryBeth Adams), conspire to teach Malvolio a lesson by making him think Olivia has the hots for him.
Then Sebastian shows up, causing confusion when he’s repeatedly mistaken for Cesario. And the jester (David Ebke) proves he’s no fool as he wittily skewers the goings-on with wry comment.
You have to really stretch to accept Reilly and Spessard being mistaken for each other, even wearing the same (what a coincidence) costume. Some age gaps between suitors and lovers also requires willing suspension of disbelief.
The castle provides fine ambience, but it limits staging. Doors on both sides of the main staging area clog some with simultaneous entrances and exits. A balcony and staircase behind and overlooking the playing area require lots of audience craning and some strained timing on other entrances and exits.
The good news is everybody in this cast can act — some perhaps a bit broadly for being so close to the audience. Particularly good at bringing light and life to Shakespeare’s aged dialogue: Adams, Salonis, Reilly and his pal, Antonio (Noah Diaz).
But my favorites were Ebke, who shines as the jester while also displaying an excellent talent for singing; and Becker, who is hilarious as a stuffed shirt and, later, besotted suitor.
Another big plus: gorgeous period costumes by Charleen Willoughby, many in deep reds, purples and tans.
With intermission, the show runs about 2½ hours.
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