Mistaken identities and musketeers make ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ a rousing success
Shakespeare Santa Cruz continues to brighten up our foggy coastal summers with imaginative live theater. The company launches its 31st season with “Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable and accessible romantic comedies. Directed by SSC Artistic Director Marco Barricelli, this lively production floods the stage with knockabout farce, yet leaves enough breathing room for moments of poignant reflection on the ways romantic love can be found—and lost.
Shipwreck survivor Viola (a winsome Lenne Klingaman) lands on the coast of Illyria. Believing her twin brother drowned, she dresses in male clothing for protection and finds employment with the nobleman, Duke Orsino (Tom Gough). Distracted by his unrequited love for the noble lady, Olivia (vivacious Rayme Cornell), Orsino sends Viola, now called “Cesario,” to woo the lady on his behalf. Olivia remains unmoved by the Duke’s message, but she falls for the messenger, Cesario.
Viola, meanwhile, trapped within her male disguise, has fallen in love with the Duke. Orsino, a man in love with his own melancholy, is a difficult character to make interesting, and while Gough is solid in the role, he lacks that extra oomph that would ignite Viola’s passion; there’s wit and wordplay, but not enough sexual tension between them when Orsino and Cesario discuss the frailties of female love. Cesario’s attempts to deflect the romantic advances of the smitten Olivia, however, are sprightly and funny. Fortunately for the lady, Viola’s much more willing twin brother, Sebastian (a spirited Jesse James Thomas) shows up in time to sort things out.
But the highlight here is its boisterous comedy. Vincent Paul O’Connor is hilarious as Olivia’s debauched uncle, Sir Toby Belch, canoodling with saucy maid Maria (Shannon Warrick), or consuming a raw egg and Tabasco cocktail onstage. William Elsman is terrific as his foppish cohort, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, commanding every inch of his stage space with his big, yet precise comic gestures and powerful voice.
Special kudos to Mark Christine as Feste, who handles the clown’s witty repartee, and sings and plays guitar with wistful sweetness. Feste and the others make a blisteringly funny comic cacophony in Olivia’s house to rouse the ire of her dour steward, Malvolio.
With his Snape-like hair and contorted sneers, the excellent Jerry Lloyd makes a meal of Malvolio, down to the last withering grimace. It’s difficult for a modern audience to laugh at his ill-treatment by the others, but Barricelli wisely allows Lloyd to accrue the full measure of Malvolio’s pathos amid all the frivolity.
This isn’t one of Shakespeare’s magical plays, but this production has an enchanted look, funky-chic steampunk glamour by way of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Spooky, stylized leafless trees curl up set designer John Iacovlli’s upstage scrim, and fairy lights hang down in fanciful wrought iron globes; they brighten or dim at the merest gesture from Feste.
Costume designer Todd Roehrman dresses the aristocrats in deep royal purples, accented with bustles, and black lace. Women and men wear corsets, or at least, fitted waistcoats. Shipwrecked Viola emerges from the sea draped in shimmering blue-green seaweed and shells, like a mermaid.
The play’s title has nothing to do with the action; some scholars think it was originally written for the last night of the holiday revels at court. All the players here wear some sort of modified whiteface to underscore this idea of a royal masque presented for our pleasure—and a royal pleasure it is.
‘The Man in the Iron Mask’
It’s a rare treat to get to review a brand new play at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. It’s even more fun when the play is as rollicking a success as Scott Wentworth’s delicious “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The second offering in SSC’s 2012 season, it’s a sequel to last season’s “The Three Musketeers.” Using material from two later Alexandre Dumas novels, Wentworth and director John Sipes collaborate to give the audience action, humor, love, honor, and plenty of roistering camaraderie.
Twenty years after events in the last play, the original three Musketeers have retired. Their former comrade-in-arms, D’Artagnan (Kit Wilder) has become Captain of the King’s Musketeers, although now he serves a new king, son of his last employer—pleasure-seeking, war-mongering young Louis XIV (Charles Pasternak). The dying Queen Mother, Anne of Austria (an elegant, heartfelt Marion Adler), sets the plot in motion with a secret visit to ex-Musketeer, Aramis (V Craig Heidenreich), now a priest, with a confession: her part in the unjust imprisonment of a boy in the Bastille years earlier.
Meanwhile, Porthos (Ted Barton), now a wealthy baron, is charged with hosting the king’s birthday fete, and, as usual, fretting about his wardrobe. Athos (the formidable Dierk Torsek), now a count, has retired to a contemplative, teetotaler’s life on his country estate—until King Louis sends Athos’ only son, the dashing guardsman, Raoul (Armando McLain) off to a volatile war zone so the king can bring Raoul’s betrothed, Louise (Lisa Kitchens), to court, and seduce her. (Kitchens is game in the role, especially in the second half, despite a distractingly modern edge to her voice.)
Aramis discovers the masked prisoner is Philippe (also Pasternak), compassionate twin brother to Louis with just as legitimate a claim to the throne, although he has never experienced life outside his cell. Aramis reunites with former comrades Athos and Porthos as they try to decide how justice and the people of France might best be served. As D’Artagnan grows at odds with King Louis, scheming guardsman De Wardes (Gabriel Lawrence) plots to discredit him.
Intrigues abound, loyalties are tested, friendships renewed, honor upheld, and, of course, swords are crossed as the plot gallops across Michael Ganio’s low-key, yet ingenious two-storey set. Yes, the old comrades carry out an audacious attempt to place Philippe on Louis’ throne; the switcheroo is carried out in a nifty piece of stagecraft involving Louis and the image in his looking-glass—followed by a lavish masked ball. And that’s just the first half of the production; for the rest, suffice it to say that Wentworth handles the issue of each character’s fate with satisfying panache.
The play is both stirring and funny, especially when the old comrades are onstage together. And the cast is terrific. Wilder (last year’s Porthos) is a wry, savvy older D’Artagnan. As Porthos, Barton’s comic flamboyance becomes poignant at the turn of a coin, and Heidenreich delivers Aramis’ droll one-liners with sly precision. Pasternak (last year’s Louis XIII) is wonderful as both the imperious young Sun King and his honest twin, navigating statecraft and love for the first time.
Perfectly-timed sound and light effects and costumer B. Modern’s usual array of dazzling gowns and court finery all contribute to the play’s success. Factor in Wentworth’s charming coda, and you’re guaranteed a rousing good time in the Festival Glen.
‘Twelfth Night’ runs July 24-Aug. 26 in the Mainstage. ‘The Man in the Iron Mask runs July 25-Aug. 26 in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen. UCSC, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. For tickets and show times, call 459-2159 or visit shakespearesantacruz.org.
Photos: RR Jones