When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday through Sept. 27
Where: Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
Info: (619) 234-5623
By Patricia Morris Buckley
If you missed the Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe Theatre this summer, you still have a few more dates to make a mad dash there. One great choice would be “Twelfth Night.”
“Twelfth Night” is one the Bard’s tales that is mostly lowbrow comedy, but it also has a tinge of romantic melancholy. Director Paul Mullins has combined both in a lyrical way, making the show less a comedy than high opera.
Yes, we can laugh at the clowns, swoon with the lovers and pine with a separated pair of twins, but in the end, all doesn’t necessarily end well. Even when we get what we think we really want, it can turn out that it wasn’t what we really needed after all (didn’t the Stones write a song about that?). In one case, a woman still pines for her first love, even though their romance is impossible. In another, a foolish peacock shows that he has as much right to respect at his place of employment as any other.
Doesn’t that sound a little like an opera — even a soap opera — to you?
To top all that off, Mullins has wonderfully set the show in 1950s Europe, and the play fits perfectly in a word of men wearing hats and women in crinolines. The mores of the time are an even better fit as they reflect society before the earth-shattering changes of the 1960s.
“Twelfth Night” begins with Viola coming ashore in Illyria after her family’s ship has broken apart during a storm. She believes her twin brother, Sebastian, is dead. Without his protection, she decides to play a man and after seeing the handsome Orsino, she begins working for him. Orsino pines for Olivia, who will have none of his suit, so he sends Viola (as a man) to beg for him. But when Olivia sees the male version of Viola, she falls in love.
The subplot involves the clown (Feste), the buffoon (Sir Toby Belch) and the fool (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), ganging up with Maria (Olivia’s maid) to bring down the arrogant head house servant, Malvolio. Usually Malvolio is played as a preening and ambitious man, but Patrick Page (also Cyrano in the Globe’s production of “Cyrano de Bergerac”) comes forth with righteous anger in the end, and we actually feel he has a legitimate complaint.
Quite frankly, after this summer’s festival, it does look as if Page could play anything a playwright could throw at him. Equally impressive is James Newcomb, whose sweet singing and conflicted clown is more opera than soap. Eric Hoffman as Sir Toby and Bruce Turk as Sir Andrew provide much of the comedy and wit.
And as a surprise, Globe MFA student Aubrey Saverino as Maria is just as excellent as the seasoned Shakespeareans. Kudos also go to Dana Green as Viola, who doesn’t imitate a man as much as inhabits the mind of one, which makes for quite a pleasing performance.
As Olivia, Katie MacNichol’s Olivia feels a bit too arch, more Greta Garbo than Audrey Hepburn. As Sebastian, MFA student Kevin Hoffman doesn’t bring anything extra to the part.
The basic set is the one the Globe has used in summers past, but designer Ralph Funicello provides a few fun touches, such as motorized boats a la Venice. Linda Cho’s costumes are simply divine to look at and suit the characters well. The lighting design by York Kennedy goes the furthest in making the set feel tailored to this show alone.
It’s rare to leave a Shakespeare comedy with a little twist in your heart, but this “Twelfth Night” delivers that and more. The result is a tinge of sadness that makes it unforgettable.
Patricia Morris Buckley has been reviewing the arts in San Diego for 25 years.