Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“Twelfth Night” – USD/Old Globe
November 11, 2011
Om Shanti Om, Baby. If Shakespeare’s plays can be re-set in the Old West or corporate America, why not British colonial India? After all, the secondary title of “Twelfth Night” is “What You Will.” It seems director Richard Seer took that as a mandate, and moved his Illyria, which is actually on the Balkan Peninsula, to the Arabian Sea. There’s already a class – or caste — system among the characters, both high-born and low. There’s a heady sense of lushness and romance. There’s mention of ‘the Indies’ in the text. And at several junctures, there are distinctly Hindu philosophical pronouncements like “We’re all one.”
So it all fits. Like a bejeweled glove. Underscored with the hypnotic rhythms of the sitar and tabla , in new compositions by Kevin J. Anthenill .
Seer’s production, starring the talented students in the Old Globe/USD graduate theater program, is a luscious array of sights and sounds. Sumptuous colors, swishing saris, snakecharmers and schemers. There’s even some cross-gender casting, to mirror the cross-dressing and mistaken identities of Shakespeare’s original.
Never mind that the sister-brother twins are a foot different in height and wouldn’t be confused by a blindfolded bat. And forget the fact that, despite all the chanting and “ Namastes ,” folks repeatedly cross themselves like dutiful Catholics. Or that the attractive set has inexplicable crumbling ruins overhead. These are minor quibbles. Where it counts, in the humor, romance, and magnificent handling of the language, this production sparkles like the jeweled bindi in the forehead of the wealthy countess Olivia.
That lovely lady, grieving for her brother, steadfastly refuses the advances of the Duke Orsino . But she’s instantly smitten by his surrogate, the shipwrecked Viola, posing as a young man, serving as page to the Duke. While Viola woos Olivia as Cesario , she swoons over her new master, Orsino . Got that?
Meanwhile, in the backrooms at Olivia’s place, mayhem is afoot, thanks to the wild, jocular revels of her uncle, Sir Toby Belch, who covets his gin as much as his hookah. His partners in comical crime are the saucy maid Maria, the dim-witted but wealthy Sir Andrew Aguecheek , and the delightful, dreadlocked clown, Feste , who sings, quips and cavorts, entertaining others and eternally asking for a monetary handout. The target of their conspiratorial practical joke is Olivia’s supercilious steward, Malvolio . Though not as severe or stentorian as some, when he’s made mock of, this Malvolio suffers mightily.
Standout performances in this excellent cast are Allison Spratt Pearce as Viola, Deborah Radloff as Olivia, Rachael Jenison as Maria, Adam Daveline as Toby and Jesse Jensen as Feste . Shakespeare created yummy characters, and these are deliciously played.
The lighting, costumes, sound, music and direction are delectable. There’s a tasty, light-hearted sensuality to the production that suits the play and sates the audience.
“Twelfth Night” runs through November 13 in the Old Globe’s White Theatre.
©2011 PAT LAUNER