Writers Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will” is a prime example of its commitment to producing inventive interpretations of classic dramatic works.
Director Michael Halberstam’s unique spin on this classic comedy showcases nontraditional casting, superb production values, clever business and nonstop action. Halberstam minds all of the comic possibilities in this topsy-turvy tale, and his fond regard for cast and characters is evident at every turn.
Although it is more than 400 years old, “Twelfth Night” still seems timely today. When Viola (Jennifer Latimore) is cast ashore in a strange land without her beloved twin brother, she is forced to disguise herself as a man to get a job with the local duke, Orsino (Matthew C. Yee).
The lovesick duke sends his clever new intermediary to woo Countess Olivia (Andrea San Miguel), who is smitten by the charming young messenger, even while grieving the deaths of her father and brother. Viola, trapped in her manly disguise, is unable to speak up when she realizes she has fallen in love with Orsino. This complicated triangle leads to much witty wordplay and talk of love.
In addition to love, there is much tomfoolery in the air. Olivia’s flatulent uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Kevin Gudahl), has been egging on foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Scott Parkinson) in his wooing of the much younger Olivia. After Olivia’s pompous steward, Malvolio (Sean Fortunato), chastises them for their noisy revelry, Belch, Aguecheek and Olivia’s maidservants, Maria (Karen Janes Woditsch) and Fabian (Mary Williamson), hatch a plot to humiliate him. They are assisted by another member of Olivia’s household, Feste (William Brown), who is addressed as Fool, even though he seems to be the wisest man in the land.
To complicate matters, Sebastian (Luce Metrius), Viola’s twin, has been rescued by Antonio (Casey Hoekstra) and set ashore in Illyria. Rounding out the superlative cast are Nik Kmiecik and John Henry Roberts playing multiple roles.
The entire cast gives noteworthy performances, particularly Fortunato, who transforms from haughty to hot and bothered, and Parkinson, who plays a silly peacock so sincerely that he becomes a sympathetic character. The players revel in sudden realizations, undergo astonishing transformations and bare their hearts.
William Boles has designed an idyllic setting of ocean, sky, columns and arches that is beautifully lit by John Culbert. Josh Schmidt’s original music and sound design effectively establish various moods – a frightening storm, a damp dungeon and a series of musical interludes.
The most notable design element is Maria Blumenfeld’s procession of boldly and thoughtfully imagined costumes. The audience is treated to a riot of color, an abundance of floral patterns and a crazy quilt of geometrical silhouettes. Blumenfeld provides remarkable sleepwear and arguably the finest array of footwear on any Chicago stage this season.
“Twelfth Night” is named after a holiday at the end of Christmastide marked by much merrymaking, so this sensual production – which runs through Dec. 16 – is an ideal entertainment for the holiday season.
• Richard Pahl has worked as an actor and director for more than
40 years. While serving two terms on Elgin’s Cultural Arts Commission, he produced its Page To Stage play reading series. He recently directed “Spinning Into Butter” for Janus Theatre, “Making God Laugh” and a staged reading of “Peggy’s Birth Day” at Steel Beam Theatre. He is slated to direct “Over the River and Through the Woods” next year.