Director Lesley Currier offers a prologue to her production of Twelfth Night, or All You Need is Love. “If you’re a Shakespeare purist, please come to our production of Julius Caesar in August.” Purist or not, Marin Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Twelfth Night is one heck of a lot of fun, but read a quick synopsis of the play before you go.
Think great music and lots of it, and be prepared to hear your neighbors singing along and taking trips down memory lane during Intermission. Popular tunes from the late 50’s through the 70’s accompany this play’s mistaken identities, love triangles, trickery and comedy, and we all know the words to some of these tunes if not all. There’s Jackie Wilson, the Beatles, Ben E. King, Donovan, Carly Simon and Sonny and Cher, just to name a few. There’s also some standout Dylan, sung and strummed by Lucas McClure who is this play’s Feste. McClure is like a character within a character. A poet within a poet. Both his speaking voice and singing voice carry the cadence of Dylan, but there’s also a slight and bizarre bit of George W. fingernails on a chalkboard in there, perhaps to account for the part of the Fool. Whether in wig or shades or stepping out in pink flamingo slippers?! McClure and his guitar are show stealers.
Aside from McClure’s actual singing and playing, the musical part of this show is kind of a mix between karaoke and lip-syncing, depending who’s doing the “singing.” It initially seems a bit forced, and the scale tips confusedly back and forth between play and musical. One also wishes the actors would either sing a little louder as they accompany the tunes, or just forget the vocals altogether and mouth the words. As it is, they linger somewhere in between and their execution, or perhaps elocution, is not always harmonious. But the actors soon find their key and the music soon begins to complement Shakespeare’s language very well. Cat Thompson, who plays a sexy and sultry Olivia in this production, is the first and best at finding the right balance. Thompson seems to accept the fact that she is an actor and not a singer, and in response to this epiphany, she turns her moments of song into Shakespearean asides mixed with a bit of Jim Carey. One moment Thompson’s in the realm of the play, and with a pronounced turn of the head, she enters the realm of the musical. She just as smoothly reverts back to her character and the whole process equates to something quite funny and workable. The rest of the cast—for the most part—follows suit and soon enough, this musical adaptation finds its stride.
Mark Robinson’s set design consists of a somewhat awkward stone castle façade (perhaps part of a different set?) decorated with not so awkward large cutouts of flowers, peace signs and Buddhist symbols, and enlightened by a couple of lava lamps. There’s a throwback chaise on which unrequited lovers may lament and linger, fondle and massage, and a drum set on which Orsino beats out his broken heart. A tie-dyed BBQ and beer cooler sit stage left and encourage Sir Toby to belch. In a recent interview, Lesley Currier told me that Robert Currier has been preparing his whole life for this role. Robert monopolizes on his character’s last name and brings Belch to life in the guise of Willie Nelson. The result is one vulgarly charming rough and stumble drunk who speaks from the gut.
The boyishly handsome heartthrob, Alex Curtis, had his moments of ups and downs on opening night. Curtis, who plays Viola’s twin, Sebastian, emerges from Olivia’s bedchamber, presumably after some offstage frolicking with the duchess. With a smile on his face, he comes skipping down the stairs and with a spin and a leap, topples off the stage and into the audience. We paused in an eternal moment of bated breath until Curtis popped up and sprayed us with a slew of Hershey Kisses. Whoever said “love hurts” really wasn’t kidding! Props to Curtis for his leap back up on the stage and for going on with the show.
Abra Berman’s costume design is a colorful palate of hippie brilliance, from the lamentable Duke Orsino’s (William Elsman) array of silken Sergeant Pepper suits to the panache of the hot pink feathers pluming from the duke’s shiny back up singers, the Valentines. I can’t quite figure out these pink singers, but I’ll just say that they’re cute and they make a good entourage. Robert Currier looks like he raided Willie Nelson’s closet, and everyone else wears their fringe and bellbottoms, headbands and yellow cross-laced boots with a difference.
It’s so important for the role of Viola to strike just the right chord, incorporating comedy that deserves a laugh as well as wit, intellect, and charisma that leads both man and woman to fall in love with this woman dressed as a man. Alexandra Matthew strikes that chord primarily with her ability to embrace and release Shakespeare’s language, to not overplay her role as a woman acting like a man, and finally with the look on her face as she prepares for her masculine role by stuffing a sock down her pants. Cynthia Pepper does a great job choreographing a ridiculously silly golf club duel between Matthew (as Cesario) and Camilla Ford (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), with clubs whirling in the air and loony music to keep up the pace.
Jack Powell as Malvolio also strikes a perfect chord in this production. Powell has this uncanny ability to defy gravity with his face. He initially offers his character a bit of OCD with his seeming need to only walk a path of right angles. He’s heartwarming when he forces his face to crack a smile, and heartbreaking when shackled and imprisoned by Sir Toby, Feste and Maria (Shannon Veon Kase). My favorite Powell/Malvolioism, however, is the walk he incurs after reading the dreaded fake note left for him as a trap. Powell conjures the mynah bird from the 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “Inki and the Mynah Bird,” or perhaps it is his own version of Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.” Nonetheless, Powell plays Malvolio with all the melancholy and madness this character deserves.
Comedy is in abundance throughout this production, from potty humor to wit akin to Shakespeare. Ford is hysterical as a revenge of the geeks Aguecheek, and does the best darn funky chicken seen on a Shakespearean stage. Interactions between Antonio (Steve Budd) and Sebastian are timed well enough to be a Saturday Night Live skit back when Saturday Night Live was good, and while Budd puts himself into casual flex-poses in hopes that his love interest will take notice, Lesley Currier’s direction picks up on every possible homoerotic pun and gives the actors full freedom to run with it.
Terry Rucker majorly nails two minor roles as the Sea Captain complete with back up singer-sailors, and as a cross-eyed Sri Yogi who embraces the movement of hippieism to Zen Buddhism in the 1960’s and 70’s with the Wheel of Dharma in his hands. Rucker’s stereotypical Sea Captain seems reminiscent to Horatio McCallister from the episode of” The Simpson’s” conveniently called “The Sea Captain.” “Yarr!”
While I consider myself a bit of a Shakespeare purist, sometimes an angle sets you straight, especially when it’s right on. Sometimes it’s fun to just go with the flow, get on your groove, and be mellow yellow. This production is festive, it doesn’t forget that Shakespeare wrote the play, and it celebrates the twenty years of fun both Lesley and Robert Currier have been having at the Marin Shakespeare Company. How can you not love a little Dylan under the stars, especially to the fine artistic tuning of Shakespeare?