Shakespeare’s raucous tale of mistaken identities and mismatched lovers moves to a different groove in this modern-dress retelling, imaginatively helmed by Jason King Jones. Set in an ocean community reminiscent of Venice, the production exudes a sun-baked zestiness thanks to an adroit ensemble that projects a loose-hipped, contempo flair while remaining impressively in sync with the Bard’s dialogue and plot machinations. In the 18-year history of Shakespeare Festival/L.A., this rendering of “Twelfth Night” may be its most synergistic mingling of modern-day styling with the Elizabethan flow of Shakespeare’s discourse.
The ensemble’s beach doings fit the Bard’s dialogue quite well, never distracting from the complicated plot machinations, which remain faithful to the original. Shipwrecked Viola (Bridget Flanery) takes on a guise as the lad Cesario and finds employment in the service of Orsino (Geoffrey Lower), who pines for the mourning Olivia (Judith Moreland), who will have none of him. Orsino sends Cesario/Viola to press his suit and, naturally, Olivia is immediately smitten with the comely lad, who has problems of his/her own: Viola is irretrievably in love with her boss, Orsino.
In and around all this unrequited love, Olivia’s perennially soused Uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Harold Surratt) is wreaking havoc of his own, conspiring with Olivia’s earthy maid Maria (Kila Kitu), Olivia’s irreverent jester Feste (Cedric Hayman) and servant Fabian (Will Beinbrink) to constantly bamboozle another of his niece’s suitors, the witless Andrew Aguecheek (Bryan Cogman), and to undermine Olivia’s monumentally pompous steward, Malvolio (Tim Choate).
As staged by Jones, the clownish shenanigans of Belch and friends provide the needed comic diversion from the lovers’ woes.
Jones’ production impressively follows the show-opening edict of the noble Orsino when he proclaims to ever-resourceful jester turned street musician Feste, “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it.” The wonderfully melodious tenor of Hayman, assisted by composer-music director David O, is utilized throughout to great effect. Latter’s irreverent tunes also add great veracity to the inspired antics of Feste and that legendary scalawag Toby Belch.
Shakespeare’s romantic angst is rendered beautifully in the scenes between Flanery and Lower. Flanery is thoroughly winning as her Cesario struggles to cope with Olivia’s passion, even as the Viola within her aches to express her own desires to Orsino. For his part, Lower’s Orsino is such a rampaging lion of passion in his desire for Olivia, there can’t help but be a tangible bridge of unrequited lust between him and the adoring Cesario who sits so tantalizingly close to him.
The sets of Katia Kaplun and costumes of Linda C. Davisson do much to enhance the modern beach setting.