By Matt McGee 07/10/2014
Considering today’s Generation Text culture, it must be a tricky thing to know the play you’re about to stage is more than 400 years old.
Yet from the moment the fool Feste (Michael Faulkner) and his acoustic guitar stroll into the evening air and onto the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor stage, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s story is accessible and technically beautiful.
Director Kevin Kern wisely places Twelfth Night in the era of the roaring ’20s and gathers a first-rate equity ensemble for the delivery at CLU’s 18th annual Shakespeare Festival. The script retains its cleverly bawdy language and, through sharp acting and stage direction, its best wit, charm and humor are as clear as ever.
Separated during an accident at sea, and each presuming the other dead, twins Sebastian (Jesse James Thomas) and his sister Viola (Angela Gulner) walk in similar circles, wear the same outfit and serve the same Duke (Ross Hellwig). Gulner’s Viola is a particularly astounding performance in a cast that shines with excellence; the bulk of the story is hers, as she commits to working as a eunuch (in this adaptation, a bellboy) while avoiding the advances of both the Duke and his love, Olivia (Elyse Mirto), who presumes Viola to be a man.
If only Olivia had seen how Malvolio (played flawlessly by Jerry Lloyd) had wanted her, a whole lot of trouble could’ve been avoided. Malvolio, defending the peace of Olivia’s home, tears into Feste and his drunken cohorts. They plot their revenge by penning a letter in Olivia’s writing, making Malvolio think his ladylove has finally looked his way. The only thing harder to watch than his glaring lemon-yellow outfit is his ensuing demise, now thought mad and confined to live in a barrel, a prisoner of his own conceit, and made a fool of by none other than Feste the fool.
The action on the Kingsmen’s stage is picked up by a clear triangular device, a live stage mic specially designed by Gary Raymond. The costumes are beautiful, particularly in a scene where Sebastian is to marry Olivia — Howard Schmitt’s designs and choices achieve a colorful synchronicity.
The Kingsmen stage is a natural outdoor beauty, enhanced by birds in surrounding trees calling to the setting sun, and the croaking of frogs in a nearby creek. Sure, Shakespeare’s script is centuries old, but when a slice of summer moon lifts into the sky off the corner of the stage and Viola and Sebastian reunite, both the story and Kevin Kern’s production become timeless.
Twelfth Night through Aug. 3 at Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival, Kingsmen Park, 100 Memorial Parkway, Thousand Oaks. For more information and tickets, call 493-3014 or visit www.kingsmenshakespeare.org.