For the 55th time, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival brings ol’ Will back to Boulder. This year’s annual celebration of one of the world’s greatest playwrights showcases two Shakespeare, one Shakespeare-related and two non-Shakespeare plays: Twelfth Night, Richard III, Women of Will, Noises Off and Treasure Island. The festival kicked off last weekend in splendid style with Twelfth Night.
One of Shakespeare’s classic comedies of mistaken identity, Twelfth Night opens with a shipwreck — dramatically occurring off stage in this version — that leaves twin siblings, Viola (Kate Berry), and Sebastian ( Josh Robinson), thinking that the other has drowned. Viola makes it to shore and quickly gains employment from Orsino (Geoffrey Kent), the Duke of Illyria, as his servant and trusted adviser.
But wait just a moment. How could a woman in Shakespeare’s time have held the post of trusted adviser to a duke? If you’re thinking that she couldn’t have, you get a gold star and a seat at the front of the class. Viola disguises herself as a man, and the duke, along with everyone else in Illyria, swallows her ruse hook, line and sinker.
As Orsino is smitten with the Countess Olivia (Rachel Fowler), Viola’s primary tasks as his aide involve delivering Orsino’s regular romantic entreaties to the utterly uninterested Olivia. Though Olivia cares not for Orsino, she becomes enamored of Viola, thinking her a young gentleman. For her part, Viola has fallen for Orsino, and thus an unusual and unusually funny love triangle is born.
Or maybe it’s a love parallelogram?
Olivia’s steward, Malvolio (Timothy McCracken), secretly longs to be his mistress’s husband. Being an uppity social climber, his desires are turned against him by the practical joking of Olivia’s head female servant, Maria (Leslie O’Carroll); Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Logan Ernstthal); Sir Toby’s drinking buddy and rival suitor to Olivia, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ian Anderson); and Fabian ( Jamie Ann Romero), another member of Olivia’s household.
Things become even more complicated when Sebastian arrives in Illyria with Antonio (Stephen Weitz), an enemy of the state. Given that Viola and Sebastian are twins and that, rather conveniently, they are dressed remarkably alike, soon everyone is mistaking one for the other. Sometimes, as when Olivia professes her love to Sebastian, thinking he is Viola, things work out for the better. Other times, as when Antonio believes Viola to be Sebastian and entreats her for money he entrusted to Sebastian and now needs desperately, things work out less well.
Though Twelfth Night’s set design, costuming, lighting and the rest are up to the CSF’s high standards, Director Philip C. Sneed really stuck the landing with his casting. Geoffrey Kent brings his trademark mix of sly humor and understated pathos to Orsino. Logan Ernstthal’s Sir Toby Belch is a triumph of drunken buffoonery, and he possesses a surprisingly lyrical singing voice. As Viola, Kate Berry gets huge laughs dodging Olivia’s advances and doing the reverse Tootsie thing.
Rachel Fowler’s performance flits effortlessly between serious and silly. Ian Anderson, playing the nearly witless nobleman Aguecheeck, shows off his flawless comic timing as he did in multiple roles in last year’s CSF. Josh Robinson doesn’t get much stage time as Sebastian, but he fills every moment with easygoing charm. In the latest in a line of cheeky roles, Leslie O’Carroll makes acting look easy. And Jamie Ann Romero gets every inch of distance possible out of her supporting role as Fabian.
Seeing this crackerjack cast ply their trade in the beautiful Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre is an experience I can’t recommend enough. They make Twelfth Night shine as the opening production in this year’s festival.