One of the joys of any Shakespeare production is the opportunity to apply fully-formed concepts to enhance Shakespeare’s loose dramaturgy. The Claremont-based Ophelia’s Jump enlivens the flood of Shakespearean revivals around the Southland this year with a Rainbow- themed Twelfth Night, in which every character is turned on its head or rendered inside out.
The plot is simple: Twins on a sea voyage in search of their father are shipwrecked on an exotic island. One ship-wrecked twin, Viola (Janelle Kester), transforms into a boy, in order to make his/her/their way into the court of Count Orsino (Marc Antonio Pritchett). As she is posing as a young servant, the Count enlists her in wooing the beauteous Olivia (Janette Valenzo). Meanwhile, her brother, Sebastian, (Scott Robinson, who looks so much like Kester that they might, indeed, be twins) has washed ashore with a shipmate, Antonio (Ryan Herrera), and two wend their way back to civilization as well. Shakespeare’s clever device pits their journey against Viola’s adventures to create the time frame for the play.
Director Caitlin Lopez, who also appears in the cast as the ridiculous Sir Toby, has mounted a joyous, whimsical production, right down to the rainbow-hued lighting. Each character is cross-cast to humorous effect. The loyal Maria (Holly Scott) is now portrayed as a towering transexual while the officious Malvolio (Jenny Lockwood) is now a female. This feature not only makes for an interesting twist on an already convoluted tale of mistaken identity, but the different gender identities give fresh meaning to the double entendres already evident in the play. However, the most delicious characterization by far is that of Fabian, the fool (Ian Hartridge), who provides original music, attired in a costume as flamboyant as any peacock.
All the performers coalesce to produce this feast of laughter and foolery; there is much to savor in this Twelfth Night. But director Lopez’ funny touches provide the uniqueness of her concept. The “closet” scene where the screwball characters spy on Malvolio is made more priceless by traveling Bekins boxes…. a classic move.
With the performers front and center, it’s easy to forget the creative artists who provide the background, costumes and sound effects. The sketchy set (by Beatrice Casagran) provides just the right nooks and crannies for the needs of the play, while the imaginative lighting comes from Sheila Malone and sounds are designed by Adam Sack. As the costume coordinator, Mark Gamez proves he has an eye for whimsy with costumes for Sir Andrew and Holly Scott in particular.
Twelfth Night is part of “Discover Claremont,” a summer-long celebration, after last year’s shut-down. Go to www.discoverclaremont.com. for more. Ophelia’s Jump, a group that features women, queer artists and artists of color, finishes this short run this weekend, but, come fall, we can look forward to more productions from the group. Find them at www.opheliasjump.org.
Ophelia’s Jump produces with the help of the Claremont Colleges at the outdoor Sontag Greek Theatre. On the night I attended, the audience sat is friends or family clumps as dictated by covid-restrictions. But there was plenty of room and lots of gaiety in just being outdoors in the warm night.