Saturday, June 16, 2018

Revel in the Open Air with Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

By Mike Logothetis

The Arden Shakespeare Gild is continuing its over-100-year tradition of homegrown performances with the classic comedy Twelfth Night. One of the most popular and enduring of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night invites the audience to the Mediterranean resort of Illyria where mischief runs rampant. Set in “fairly modern times,” the usual elements of a Shakespearean comedy appear: twins, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, love, revenge and plenty of clever wordplay.

But what sets this production apart from the talent and the play itself is the natural setting. This is Shakespeare being performed in the actual Forest of Arden. What can top that?! (Padded seats on the wooden benches might improve matters. Hint: Bring a cushion. And maybe some bug spray.) The audience is introduced to the entire cast as the actors enter from “The Field” singing Over The Hills – the marching song of the Arden Players. (The music doesn’t end at the procession.) 


The cast of Twelfth Night. Photos courtesy of Arden Shakespeare Gild. 
This year’s production features the stellar duo of Kerry Kristine McElrone (Olivia) and Michelle Jacob Stradley (Viola), who are reprising their roles from a 2006 City Theater Company production of Twelfth Night. Director Mary Catherine Kelley observed that “these two actresses did their homework years ago; both are dedicated to the text and to clarity and to the pure fun of the comedy. It’s truly a pleasure to watch them.”

The story begins as Viola arrives on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. She is distraught as she fears her twin brother Sebastian (Colin Antes) has drowned. With the aid of the ship’s Captain (Tom Wheeler), she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (Jason Fawcett).

Orsino is enchanted with the fair Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. Olivia refuses to entertain romantic suitors, be in the company of men, or accept marriage proposals from anyone until seven years have passed. Orsino decides to employ Cesario as an intermediary to profess his love for Olivia. However, Olivia falls in love with the messenger Cesario, setting herself at odds with her promise to remain temporarily celibate. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, creating a misguided love triangle.

Stradley says, “This time around, I’m enjoying exploring how Viola navigates the relationships that arise from her new life in Illyria – from her love interest [Duke] Orsino to the lovely but confused Olivia.”


Olivia (Kerry Kristine McElrone)
Orsino and Cesario
(Jason Fawcett & Michelle
Jacob Stradley.)
When McElrone and Stradley are on stage together as Olivia and Cesario, the dynamics crackle. Shakespeare’s words flow freely and the actresses’ nimble physical movements help relay both the romantic and duty-bound natures of their differing efforts. You can almost see McElrone’s heart flutter as she absorbs the mere presence of the stately Cesario.

McElrone comments that she is “playing [Olivia] with the idea that Cesario makes her lose control; before, the control was there leaving little time for real emotion.”

In a subplot, Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby Belch (Dan Tucker) and silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Henry Moncure III) drink and carouse late into the night at Olivia’s residence. In a great bit of comedic irony, the drunken revelers wake the house singing Hold Thy Peace. Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Rob Hull) chastises them, which initiates a plot for revenge against him. Toby, Andrew, and house servants Maria (Elizabeth Varley) and Fabian (Petra DeLuca) team up against Malvolio with the help of the fool Feste (Liam Freeh).

Moncure and Tucker play off each other brilliantly as a pair of old drunks trying to keep the good times rolling. The pair provide most of the physical comedy in the show, but others certainly hold their weight – just watch the boxing match between Cesario and Aguecheek.

The conspirators convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a romantic letter written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. Malvolio starts acting out the laughable contents of the letter to impress Olivia, who is shocked by the disturbing changes in him. Olivia leaves the apparently mad Malvolio in the care of her staff – the conspirators – who imprison him.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother Sebastian has been rescued by Antonio (Will Bryant), a sea captain who previously fought against Duke Orsino. Taking Sebastian for Cesario, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly wed in a church. Later, Cesario and Sebastian’s joint appearance in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino evokes confusion because of their physical similarity. At this point, Viola sheds the guise of Cesario, reveals her identity, and is reunited with her twin brother.

The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Orsino and Viola plus it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Duke Orsino sends Fabian to placate him. All’s well that ends well, right?

It should be noted that certain scenes include original music and period songs, often sung by Freeh. The night closes with a celebratory song and dance by the entire company. Sam Arthur, Megan Murphy King, Sarah McIlvaine, and Lisette Walker provide the live soundtrack for the performance.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 8:00pm, plus a matinee on Sunday, June 17, at 2:00pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. 


Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to www.ardenshakes.com for online ordering. Prices are $10 for members, $12 for general admission, and $5 for children 12 and under. The Sunday matinee costs $7 across the board.

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