Twelfth Night is frequently performed, so the story is familiar. But that hardly matters because the pleasure is in the performance, especially at the American Shakespeare Center. The production I saw last night was probably the best I’ve seen. Certainly it was the funniest. The packed house was in stitches by the antics of Toby Belch, Sir Andrew, Malvolio, and the Fool, as well as the entire cast.
This is one of the mistaken-identity plays, which often requires a stretch of the imagination, but here Alyssa Wilmoth and Chaney Tullos as Viola and Sebastian look sufficiently alike (thanks to costumes and hair adjustments) that the confusion is almost believable. Both arrive at court, Viola in disguise as Cesario, and Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia are charmed, but for the wrong reasons. It all works out in the end, of course. See the Director’s Notes
One scene stands out as particularly uproarious, partly because of the acting and partly the staging. Malvolio, played brilliantly by John Harrell, is in the garden pondering his duties and his run-in with Sir Toby Belch, played with much drunken enthusiasm by James Keegan. He discovers the letter forged by Maria, and puzzles over its meaning. Meanwhile, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew (Gregory John Phelps), along with Fabian (Thomas Keegan), are hiding in the boxwoods, which in the production are plastic branches that the actors have instructed audience members to hold. This leads to some very funny business with the branches and with Malvolio nearly catching sight of his tormenters. Hilarious stuff.
Other standout performances here are Alyssa Wilmoth as Viola/Cesario and John Pasha as Antonio.
Like the King Lear production, this one will merit a second viewing.