“If music be the food of love, play on,” Duke Orsino commands at the beginning of TWELFTH NIGHT. This cross-dressing comedy opens the summer season of Shakespeare Dallas, filled with strong turns by Shakespeare regulars and delightful performances by newcomers to the amphitheatre.
Originally penned as a celebration of the final day of the Christmas holiday, this production of TWELFTH NIGHT captures the mirth and music originally associated with this play.
Set at the turn of the 20th century on the coast of Croatia, Raphael Parry directs a production that explores the meeting place of the East and West. Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked, believing the other to be lost. To navigate this unknown terrain Viola (Jenny Ledel) dresses as a man and works in the court of Duke Orsino (Max Hartman).
Orsino asks Viola, whom he knows as the page Cesario, to woo his beloved Olivia (a charming Allison Pistorious). Bored by the Duke’s advances, Olivia is instead taken by the young Cesario (Viola). But Viola (Cesario) finds herself yearning for Orsino. When Sebastian (the always polished Austin Tindle) wanders into the middle of the love triangle Olivia coaxes him into marriage.
If that plot isn’t confusing enough, the clowns of the play create their own subplot of mischief. Sir Toby Belch (Steven Young), the aptly-named drunk, schemes with Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ryan Glenn) and Olivia’s lady-in-waiting Maria (Nicole Berastequi) to embarrass Malvolio (a delightfully dastard Tony Ramirez) who is set on wooing Olivia. And the jester Feste (Damian Gillen) shows up from time-to-time with jokes and songs.
As Belch, Young leads these fools in performances that capitalize on the humor that must've made Elizabethean audiences guffaw centuries ago. Berastequi balances charm and comedy and Glenn proves a comic genius in his energetic turn as Aguecheek. Although costume designer Leila Heise’s insistence that all simpletons wear ridiculous hats is distracting.
Heise composed beautiful costumes for the courtiers, dressing Pistorious in a beautiful blue gown and Hartman in stunning Eastern garb. The costumes serve as accents of color to Rachel Finn’s gargantuan dark set, with delicate chandeliers and a red Persian rug on grass floor. And Parry directs the actors to fill the expansive space with energetic, natural movements and scene changes.
As Orsino, Hartman owns a certain verisimilitude, stabilizing the Duke’s regality with a simple approach to the poetical lines and making dynamic, humorous connections with Ledel. As the disguised Viola, Ledel crafts an adorable Cesario, finding appropriate humor, playing her awkwardness in a slightly stilted Manner.
TWELFTH NIGHT is populated with songs, which Shakespeare Dallas crafts into beautiful interpretations written by Hartman and Newton Pittman. In this play of midsummer madness, I found myself agreeing with Orsino about music, “Play on!”
TWELFTH NIGHT runs Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday nights in repertory with CORIOLANUS at the Samuell Grand Amphitheatre (1500 Tenison Pkwy) through July 21. Tickets can be purchased through memberships, or for $10 online or at the gate. Get there early to grab a good seat. Bring a blanket and snacks.