Twelfth Night

Earlier this month, when Mrs. Hurty and I were in Little Rock visiting our grandchildren, we all took turns choosing a movie to watch each night before bed. When it was my turn, I chose Shakespeare in Love. Initially, my grandkids were not amused. They prefer less talk and more action in their movies, but I thought it would be good to stretch their experience a little, and by the end, they seemed at least mildly interested. The fictional plot line of the film revolves around Shakespeare falling in love with the lady Viola de Lesseps who has dressed in drag to audition for one of Shakespeare’s plays. The as-yet-unwritten play has the working title “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” which, with Will under the influence of Viola, evolves into “Romeo and Juliet.” Comedy and romance ensue, but in the end, the chasm between Shakespeare, a commoner, and Viola, a noble, is unbridgeable. She sails off to the New World. Shakespeare is left behind and in the final scene of the film he begins to pen a new play with Viola as his muse and subject. He scratches out the first words of his comedy “Twelfth Night.”

So when we settled into our seats for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night last week, we were already pre-disposed to thoughts of gender bending casting in the Shakespearean canon. Not limiting the cross gender role playing to Shakespeare’s casting of Viola as boy, director Dawn Monique Williams cast actors Catherine Castellanos as Sir Toby Belch and Arielle Crosby as Feste. Ms. Castellanos (who also plays Juliet’s father in OSF’s current production of Romeo and Juliet) is remarkable as Sir Toby, and Ms. Crosby is stunning as Feste. But the standout in the cast was Sam Jackson as Viola. Her command of Shakespeare’s language and her voice were perfectly fit to the dual role. Some actors may be tempted into playing Cesario’s boyishness overly broadly, but Ms. Jackson chooses a nuanced portrayal. It was masterful.

There are times when broad comedy is called for, and Al Espinosa delivered as Malvolio. He captured both the pathetic and pompous nature of Olivia’s man servant and was clearly a favorite of the audience.

There was not a weak player in the cast, and the staging of the production was enhanced by a beautiful set and lovely costumes. We moved to Ashland a few years ago, and one of the main factors for choosing this town was the Shakespeare Festival. “Twelfth Night” is a reminder of what drew us. Thank you, OSF.

Posted 25 June 2023 by Mark ·