Driving to the Guthrie to see Twelfth Night, I flippantly told my husband that since the cast (all local!) was so great, if this didn’t tickle our fancies, it meant the director and the script adaptation weren’t rising to the occasion. The easy consensus after the two-hour play? The cast, the director, the adaptation—everything about this play—brings an indulgent breath of fresh air, a handful of confetti, and a surprising amount of splashes to the Twin Cities.
My previous experience with the Twelfth Night’s storyline was watching the Amanda Bynes’ film She’s the Man no less than 10 times. Probably 20 by now, if I’m being honest. And while there was the same overarching storyline—with her brother gone, Viola disguises herself as a man and falls in love with Duke Orsino who loves Olivia who loves her—Shakespeare’s OG story expands the world in a way that the formulaic, high school rom com can’t. It also, as my husband pointed out, really leans into the idea of a drunken singing party, courtesy of three of the 10 actors in the ensemble: Sally Wingert as the boisterous Sir Toby; Joy Dolo as the hilariously childish and naive Sir Andrew, a sort of suitor of Olivia’s; and Luverne Seifert as the wittingly stupid fool, Feste.
In the Guthrie’s explanation of its play, which runs through March 22, it writes, “Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is equal parts romance and comedy, but this skews more toward love (and not just of the romantic variety).” I tend to disagree, with no malconsequence. This production mixes slapstick comedy, wit, buffoonery, dramatic irony, a couple innuendos, perfectly utilized hand gestures, and even some dark humor. (Pennywise isn’t the only person to use red balloons to scare people.) Even if you don’t catch all the jokes on the actors’ lightning-quick tongues, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
The only moments in the play that spike with something other than humor are usually Emily Gunyou Halaas’ monologues as Viola. Apparently being stuck in a love triangle while mourning the presumed death or your twin brother makes you a bit lachrymose. She delivers her lines with verve so strong, you could imagine the soft lighting and swelling soundtrack even without the handiwork of lighting designer Yi Zhao and sound designer/composer Sartje Pickett.
Rest assured, there is plenty of love, too. The ardent but shallow love of Orsino (played by Nate Cheeseman) is one example; the scheming and slightly horny love of Olivia (Sun Mee Chomet) is another. The steward Malvolio (Jim Lichtscheidl), despite his stick-in-the-mud personality and his snobbery, really loves Olivia. Even Sebastian (Michael Hanna) is in his own little love triangle (depending on how likely you are to create OTPs, or “one true pairings”), thanks to the undying devotion of Antonio, the sea captain who rescues him (Tyson Forbes). There’s not really a lesson to be learned in any of it, though. There’s just love and, as Minneapolis-native director Tom Quaintance hoped for, delight.
Quaintance describes the set by Naomi Dawson as a “playground” for the actors. While the dirt-colored scaffolding seems too austere, even with the pool of water and strung-up cafe lights, soon the stage explodes into color. The actors all play their characters with perfect pitch, and Ann Closs-Farley’s costume choices play off their eccentricities and their moods. After seeing the show, it’s difficult to imagine the cacophony of prints, sequins, and patterns that Sir Andrew’s and Sir Toby’s closets must hold. The red and white balloons from the I Swoon for Balloons Factory (according to the pun-filled map on page 17 of the program) create a Valentine’s Day whimsy, too. Plus, with the actors’ shenanigans and showmanship, the set truly does become a playground—at least to Olivia’s servant Maria (Sarah Jane Agnew), who goes into Mission Impossible mode to play a prank on Malvolio.
Twelfth Night is not a play that will make you connect with lost loves, lost identity, or the universal issues that we face today. Instead, it is a play that will make you smile and laugh. It’ll make you sing along (yes, you read that right) and wonder about Seifert’s coin-catching abilities. In the hands of the Guthrie, Twelfth Night lives up to its purpose as a true Shakespeare comedy. The tricks and jokes may stand out more than the plot, but isn’t that the joy of a simple farce?
Another Show For You
If you’re looking for another charming show, check out Daddy Long Legs by Minneapolis Musical Theatre. While the name is misleading, the two-person musical is a romantic epistolary with secret identities between Jerusha Abbott and the mysterious man who has decided to fund her education. While the plot predictably travels toward a happy ending, the light-hearted and sentimental songs won me over. (If you’re not worried about spoilers, try “Like Other Girls” or my favorite, “The Color of Your Eyes.”) You can see this Off-Broadway show at the James J. Hill House through February 29.