Arts & Culture

TRADITIONAL ‘TWELFTH’

Jessica Boles, left, as Viola, and Janet Stipicevich as Olivia in ‘Twelfth Night.’
Jessica Boles, left, as Viola, and Janet Stipicevich as Olivia in ‘Twelfth Night.’ COURTESY OF CENTRAL COAST SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival takes audiences on a trip back in time for a lively traditional production of “Twelfth Night,” as it might have been performed in a lovely outdoor setting in its own era.

The skilled cast, in Elizabethan costumes, makes it easy to enter into the flow of the Bard’s language in this comedy about love, disguise and mischief. It’s directed by Zoe Saba, the company’s artistic director.

This is a play with some familiar Shakespeare devices and themes — a woman disguised as a man, the relationship between master and servant, foolishness and fools, and twins.

Twins Viola and Sebastian have been shipwrecked and separated, each believing the other is dead. Viola is infatuated with the handsome Duke Orsino, but he lusts after Countess Olivia. Viola disguises herself as a young man to become Orsino’s servant, Cesario. Orsino assigns Cesario to court Olivia for him, but Olivia falls for Cesario “himself.” Olivia’s dour steward Malvolio secretly longs for Olivia’s attentions, and a conspiracy of rowdy rebels in the household tricks him into believing she cares for him. The plot is peppered with trickery and comic antics.

Central Coast Shakespeare is a repertory company, and audiences can add a dimension of enjoyment by seeing both this play and the other summer offering, “The Gamester,” where some of the same actors play different roles.

Janet Stipicevich is Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” She creates a fine Shakespeare lady, haughty but hungry for love. She has a knack for playing the Bard’s women just slightly over the top.

David Hance displays his versatility with a much different role in “Twelfth Night.” Instead of the serious, stern character he plays in “The Gamester,” here he is the bawdy, drunken Sir Toby Belch, a kin of Olivia, who hatches the plot to deceive Malvolio. He is joined in the cruel joke by his dimwitted friend Sir Andrew (Mark Brunasso), Olivia’s clever servant Maria (Juliana Wetherwax), Fabian, another servant (Shannon Peters), and Olivia’s wily jester (Kristie Siebert). The raucous and funny conspirators have a great time, both as actors and characters.

The hapless Malvolio is the only sad character in this play, but he is also the funniest. Randy Pound uses his comedic talents to create the duped steward, convinced by a forged letter that he can win Olivia by wearing an outlandish outfit and turning his usual frowns into smiles.

In program notes, dramaturge Billy Houck explains that Malvolio probably represents the Puritans of the period, considered enemies of the theater and of any revelry of the time.

Viola disguised as Cesario also deserves a note of history. In Shakespeare’s time, women were played by young men and boys, so she would have been a boy playing a girl playing a boy. In the dialogue, Cesario is described as “not old enough to be a man, but not young enough to be a boy.” Jessica Boles plays him/her well. Charles Hayek is her twin, Sebastian, who, dressed in an identical costume, wreaks havoc on everyone when he comes on the scene, apparently making two Cesarios out of one. Another character asks, “How have you made division of yourself?”

Tyler Lopez is good as the elegant duke, Orsino, spurned by one woman and sought by another.

Amusing incidental musical accompaniment to the action is provided by violinist James Burkeen. The elaborate costumes for both of the season’s plays were assembled by Jennifer Keller and her crew.

Bring a picnic and a chair or blanket to sit on the rolling green lawn next to the stage, as well as some warm clothes in case the weather cools.

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