Faithful to the bard’s original text, and yet completely inventive, ‘Twelfth Night’ is a must-see for Houstonians this season. The play is bawdy and funny with an excellent ensemble of in-house veterans and several newcomers making their Alley Theatre debut.
The Alley, under the direction of Jonathan Moscone, sets the Shakespeare classic in the 1930s—where self-expression, excess, and economic hysteria characterize a raucous time period.
The Play: A shipwreck off the coast of Illyria leaves twin aristocratic siblings, Viola and Sebastian, unaware of one another’s fate. Each believing the other has perished in the sea sets off a tale rife with unrequited love, mistaken identities and witty banter. Viola (played by Alley newcomer Kim Blanck) fearing her fortunes lost, disguises herself as a man (almost identical in appearance to her brother) to work as a page boy for local Duke Orsino (played by the swoonworthy Chris Hutchinson). Viola, now calling herself Cesario, finds herself in an entangled mess of misdirected and unrequited love.
Viola’s employer, the Duke (who believes her to be a young man) is hopelessly in love with Lady Olivia, played by the sublime and very funny Elizabeth Bunch. Making matters even more complex, Viola secretly pines for the Duke. Cesario (really Viola), who quickly became a favorite servant of the Duke, is sent by him to woe Lady Olivia – since she refuses to see Orsino he’s forced to send pages in his place. Cesario succeeds in melting the lady’s heart, but not for the Duke. Olivia falls into a giddy lust for what she assumes to be the male Cesario.
With it so far? Viola’s realization of Olivia’s love for Cesario (her male alter ego) is played by Blanck as both deeply funny in the mistake and heart wrenching for the lady. Poor Olivia! Poor Duke! And poor Viola for succeeding in love in exactly the wrong place!
That’s the first plot. (Yes, Shakespeare loves to layer!) The second plot revolves around a group of merry misfits led by the wry, but often drunk Sir Toby Belch played by Michael Manuel – making his Alley debut. This entourage’s objectives seem to be drinking, partying and tormenting Lady Olivia’s prude man-servant Malvolio, dressed as Karl Lagerfield and played by the talented Todd Waite. The comedic ensemble, particularly the hilarious camp performance by Dylan Godwin as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, have some of the funniest scenes in the production. And what would a Shakespeare play be without an all-knowing and witty fool? Jay Sullivan plays the volatile, confident and downright sexy part of Feste with complete ease.
Eventually, after duels and marriage proposals, identities are revealed—and love wins for all.
The play is also gorgeous—from the elegant set design by Todd Rosenthal to the exquisite costumes from Katherine Roth. Rosenthal’s selection of Art Deco pieces in each scene give the play a glamorous vibe. And, to be frank, there wasn’t an outfit worn (including the bear suit) I didn’t want in my closet. The costumes are stunning, from Feste’s vagabond chic knits to the silky gowns on Lady Olivia, Roth has created a runway show for the stage.
Moscone’s choosing to set the play in the ‘30s and not the roaring ‘20s, gives an added edge. While the players are absorbed in the excesses of drink, revelry and love they are closing in on the economic and cultural shifts of the Great Depression and another world war. Neither are referenced directly in the play, yet the audience feels the impending changes and less carefree times ahead.
Twelfth Night runs October 5–28 in the Hubbard Theatre. Click here for tickets.
Cover: Sydney Haygood, Melissa Molano, Michael Manuel as Sir Toby Belch, Jay Sullivan as Feste and Dylan Godwin as Sir Andrew Aguecheck. Photo Lynn Lane
Emily Bond is a published writer and editor from Houston. She is also the Co-Director of the nonprofit Healing Species of Texas, an organization that teaches character education in schools with rescue dogs.