Notice: Run Extended to Sunday, September 29, @ 6:30.
Fern Shakespeare Company brings us now an intimate and funny Twelfth Night, Or What You Will at their new home: The Slate Theater. Using the performance method called Original Practice, director Wiley Basho Gorn, set a slow open to the show. The cast enters the stage and casually talk with the audience about everyday matters such as, what brought us out tonight, or how far did we travel. One can ask questions, I asked, “Who are you playing tonight.” I happened to be talking to Camille van Putten: “Viola.” “Oh, you have a lot of lines.” I’m not quite backstage, yet she’s not fully in role either.
Mentally time traveling back to February 1602, when this show first ran at an inn court away from Royal London, we see most plays produced at 2 pm and outdoors. The performers and audiences could see one another very well in the daylight. So my short exchange with an actor sampled the close contact of audience and performer common in Shakespeare’s time.
Plot summary: A brother-sister twin pair are rescued separately after a shipwreck off the coast of Illyria. Each presumes the other died in the storm. The sister, Viola, disguised as a young man,“Cesario,” goes to find work as a page in Duke Orsino’s Court. Her twin brother, Sebastian, is plucked from the sea by Antonio, a pirate.
Orsino sends Cesario (Viola) to express his fond feelings for Countess Olivia. Olivia is devout and grieving the death of her father and brother. Cesario is kept outside Olivia’s gates for several days. Olivia delegates to her courtier Malvolio authority to do “what you will” to dismiss the stubborn young man at her gates.
Most of the action is in Olivia’s court after Cesario wins an audience. Once alone, Olivia tosses Orinso’s affections aside and instead falls for Cesario (Viola). Alas, Viola (Cesario) has fallen for Orsino. Malvolio is played to look foolish and mad by Olivia’s cousin, Sir Toby; the court’s jester, Feste; and her serving woman, Maria. If you remember anything about Twelfth Night, it’s the yellow stockings and garters that this trio trick Malvolio into wearing.
After two plus hours of witty dialogue (mostly by Cesario and Jeste) and the fun of mistaken identities—siblings reunite, affections are clarified, and most live happily ever after. Except Malvolio, who is freed but swears vengeance on the court because of the humiliation he’s suffered.
What might Shakespeare mean by adding “what you will” to the title?” Twelfth Night refers to the 12th night after Christmas and marked the end of festivals that began with All Saint’s Eve (Halloween). It is customary on that evening to expect things to be reversed. The reverse of religious devotion is lust and falling in love.
The “set” by Gorn and Doug Graham kept to Original Practice principles of limited props and sets so that scenes can change swiftly. Most of the set: about 7 pieces of old luggage and a wooden trunk. These pieces were stacked to create tables, set at right angles to make a praying stand, or set out as stones to create obstacles. The main props were umbrellas—as veils, swords, or barriers. Brilliant.
Costume Designer Jessica Fern Hunt kept the look contemporary and put in clever clothing and wig touches that allowed for quick role/costume changes in full view of the audience. I was never in doubt of the character any actor was playing.
The 13 characters were performed by seven actors in multiple roles. Let’s take a look.
Camille van Putten – Viola (Cesario). Viola/Cesario has one scene where she must show the audience she loves Orsino while talking to him in hypothetical terms with him:
Sooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love a great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d?
Daniel Wood – Orsino/Andrew. Wood has many quick changes of roles and costumes and played the buffoon vividly, in the way of the Three Stooges. Could have dialed back a notch.
Simone Alene – Olivia / Antonio. Alene had the most lines as Olivia, and after she fell hard for Cesario she pursued ‘him’ with a thrilling single mindedness.
Sarah Beeson – Malvolio. Beyond evidence and reason, Malvolio fell for a forged letter asserting that the Countess secretly admired him. To win further favor, the letter claimed, Malvolio had to smile and wear yellow stockings with garters.
Why yellow stockings? The evening after Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn beheaded for adultery he attended a state event with his new love on his arm and dressed entirely in canary yellow. Anne was Queen Elizabeth’s mother and Henry was her father. Smart for Shakespeare to open away from the Royal Court.
Doug Graham – Feste / Captain. Graham played Feste as someone who was smarter than anyone else in court, and knew it. In fact, expecting a bit more animation from the jester, I had to concentrate after the intermission to figure out who was Feste.
Deena Ingley – Sebastian / Maria. Ingley’s Maria—smart, conniving, and likely itching to escape from service to the Countess.
Sean Taylor- Toby / Curio. Whether Taylor was joining in with the singing and music making, or scheming to show up Malvolio, one kept one’s eyes on him. And Sir Toby would raise a toast to Taylor for his fifth appearance in Twelfth Night in 40 years.
Director – Wiley Basho Gorn
Set Designers: Wiley Basho Gorn & Doug Graham
Music Director – Shawna Avinge
Stage Manager – Lisa Harrington
Costume Designer – Jessica Fern Hunt
Costume Assistant – Deena Ingley
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Wiley Basho Gorn. Produced by the Fern Shakespeare Company. Runtime 2:40 minutes with one intermission. Slate Theater (in the repurposed INS building), 815 Seattle Boulevard South. Fri & Sat: 7:30 pm; Sun 6:30 pm. Tickets. Closes Sept. 29.