I was born in the 70s, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t and I’m not affected by the power of the 60s. The eternal building blocks of music play on; the cyclical phenomenon of fashion marches on; the fabulously liberal-ability of my City to urge me, from time to time, to put flowers in my hair, and the energy that draws me into the streets to protest what has left our country shaken and wan with care.
TheatreWorks’ production of Twelfth Night, directed by TheatreWorks founder and Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, plays with the brighter side of the 60s, leaving the wars to be fought in another play. With original music composed by Tony Award nominee (Jane Eyre, 2000) Paul Gordon, and undoubtedly one of the grooviest set designs Twelfth Night has yet to see, this production is “high fantastical.” The heavy-hitters are by all measures Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert and Costume Designer Allison Connor. The backdrop is reminiscent of Peter Max’s “cosmic art," mixing the sun, the stars, and the Golden Gate over the San Francisco Bay in a rainbow of bold, otherworldly colors, while center stage sits a looming platform on four legs, creating the optical illusion of the actors walking on the air of this other world. The rotating set and reminiscent props recall the poster art of The Byrds’ 1967 concert at the Fillmore, the bold simplicity inspired by the "Yellow Submarine," the psychedelic lettering of Wes Wilson, street signs letting you know you are standing on the Haight-Ashbury corner of history, and the overall iconicizing of the late 60s as a mythical and magical place. We even get a broken down Love/Peace van entering stage left in representation of Viola’s ship that wrecks on the coast of this fantastic and uncertain place.
Connor’s costume design is equally brilliant, dressing Duke Orsino (Michael Gene Sullivan) in Hendrix-inspired (pre-dark/drug-over induced days) purple velour bellbottoms, a beaded fringe jacket, and a long bandana, while Feste (Patrick Alparone) plays the patched fool in another Hendrix-inspired colorful patchwork jacket. Vilma Silva as Olivia evolves into the long silken jumpsuits of Janis Joplin, while Carie Kawa goes from embroidered go-go dress to a member of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. These fab Sergeant Peppers’ jackets also dress Rafael Untalan who plays Viola’s lost at sea twin brother, Sebastian, as well as Michael Ching (complete with handlebar moustache) who along with Clive Worsley, causes a bit of confusion by doubling as the Captain of Viola’s van and Sebastian’s sea captain, respectively, while also joining Feste as musical Fools. Fools Alparone, Ching, and Worsley play their guitars and bongo drum while delivering some amazing, twangy, folk-rock music and songs throughout this production. Most memorable is Worsley’s moving accompaniment to Orsino and Viola’s strobe-lit musings on the cruelty of love.
This is the first Shakespeare production I’ve seen that leads a lady to lengthen her hair in order to disguise herself as a man. Kawa covers her short hip do with a shoulder-length wig in tune with the times, and in order to match the natural locks of Untalan. Kawa is endearing on all levels. She is both the lover and the well-deserved loved, and she is a witty complement for any on this stage. Kawa and Sullivan prove a perfect match, wearing fresh faces and an optimistic demeanor filled with hope of a brighter day.
All the women in this production are strong and independent, radical and empowered, and motivated to achieve what they desire. This is in marked contrast to the love-musings of Orsino, the singing Fools, and the cocktails and cannabis that cause Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Darren Bridgett) to come down with a terrible case of the munchies (thank God for Oreos!). Bridgett and Warren David Keith as Sir Toby Belch (the Wavy Gravy days) offer loads of comedy, some bootie shaking, and Bridgett’s signature move that takes him into the audience.
The only possible downer to this sky high production is the wronged and notoriously abused Malvolio, played to perfection by Ron Campbell. Rather than dampen the mood, Campbell adds to this play’s comedy from the first moment he opens his frog-like mouth with a low and creaky “Yes.” Shannon Warrick as Maria, as well as Campbell, Bridgett, and Keith dominate the stage in a mist of bug spray and quick comedic timing during the letter scene, ending with Campbell’s constipated smile and leading to a pair of tie-dyed, cross-gartered yellow stockings. It’s difficult to feel too sorry for Malvolio here, even when he’s thrown into the dungeon (via a pit center stage) at the mercy of Sir (is it Swami Satchidananda?) Topas. Campbell emerges amidst clouds of smoke with dark shades and a flower in his hair, while random hands reach up, offering him a hit before pulling him back down below. It is only Campbell’s recurring emphasis on the word “hope” that strikes a chord, but his lack is more than counterbalanced by the hope inspired by the amazing generation that inspired this production.
In true TheatreWorks holiday season fashion, you don’t have to be a flower child to understand and thoroughly enjoy this festive production of Twelfth Night. This happening is engaging and appropriate for the 60’s child and the millennium child, alike, assuming you don’t mind a little smoke-out at your Be-in. There’s life in it man. Vivid, psychedelic, cosmic, nostalgic, bold and beautiful life. So sit back and let the evening go; I’m sure you will enjoy the show.