A Wealth of Twelfths

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

One of the joys of any Shakespeare production is the opportunity to apply fully-formed concepts to enhance Shakespeare’s loose dramaturgy.  This season Twelfth Night, America’s second favorite after Romeo and Juliet, is getting front billing all over the west, from the Rockies to Shakespeare in Griffith Park (more on that anon), and now Theatricum Botanicum.


In their wooded glen, Theatricum’s version unfolds as Count Orsino’s court has been transposed to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the ship-wrecked twin, Viola (Willow Geer), has transformed into a boy in order to make his/her/their way in the early nineteenth century.  Her brother, Sebastian, (Cavin Mohrhardt) meanwhile, has washed ashore with a ship-mate, Antonio (Sean McConaghy), and the 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.


Aside from moving the action to 1812 or so, Director Ellen Geer shows theatrical flair when portraying the officious Malvolio as a woman.  This feature not only makes for an interesting twist on an already convoluted tale of mistaken identity, but creates an interesting historical reference as well. Though all the shenanigans that played so well in Elizabethan times are still there, I have never before seen Malvolio’s torture as anything more than silly fun.  When Malvolio is a woman, however, the very words Shakespeare wrote reveal that it is a spoof on witch baiting, harking back to his own contemporary times.

As always, with Theatricum’s spare woodland setting, costuming and lighting is all, with Costumer Amy Mazzaferro’s well-coordinated period pieces providing most of the context, while Zachary Moore’s thorough light plot pinpoints the wide-ranging action over hill and dale.

Words normally spoken and now set to music provide the Gilbert and Sulllivan Operetta-like aspect of Theatricum’s performance. Marshall McDaniel provides the original compositions that lend an airily pleasant feeling to the familiar plotting, but they may seem out-of-sync with the over-all production concept.

All the performers coalesce to produce this feast of laughter and foolery; with Mohrhardt, in particular, bringing surprise carnival antics to enhance his performance and our delight.  There is much to savor in this Twelfth Night.  It might be fun to see both our Southland versions, to enjoy two variants on a theme of misplaced siblings and misguided loves.

Theatricum Botanicum performs Twelfth Night in rotation during its summer season, mixing Shakespearean plays and classics young-ish (Skin of our Teeth) and older (Enemy of the People) through September 29th, 2019 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga 90290. Tickets range from $10.00 for children to $42.00.  For exact schedule and ticket information phone (310) 455-3723 or online, www.theatricum.com.