Originally published at www.theatrius.com
Walking into the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University, I eyed rows upon rows of wooden seats surrounding an eye-popping stage design. As a soft breeze scattered leaves, I felt like I just had just stepped back centuries into a Shakespearean theater.
Set Designer Nina Ball’s royal blue and aqua fortresses with aqua stage and arched doorways serve as congenial home for ten actors who enter and exit seamlessly. The castles dominate the magical island of Illyria. White steps wrapped in roses draw us into the Mediterranean setting for Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.
Separated twins, clever Viola (spirited Stevie Demott) and wandering Sebastian (subtle Salim Razawi), are shipwrecked on an island ruled by self-indulgent, romantic Duke Orsino (suave Johnny Moreno). Viola enters Illyria shivering, struggling up through a clever stage floor that delivers her from the stormy sea.
Director Bridgette Loriaux introduces modern and interpretive dance to bring lightness to the complicated story. Yet, she spotlights gender identity, political power, and the comic folly of love.
Orsino is enamored with his neighbor, charismatic, much wooed, Lady Olivia (versatile Charisse Loriaux). But Olivia is smitten with Viola, who is disguised as the boy, Cesario. As Caesario, Viola cannot tell Orsino she loves him, and she cannot tell Olivia why she cannot love her.
As Viola/Caesario, DeMott juggles the gender identity crisis gracefully. As Lady Olivia, Loriaux delivers a message on women’s love and women’s power, handling the psychological sexual triangle with comic ease.
Viola stands for all those people who love differently. Her gender and mistaken identities run wild, on full display with Orsino. Working for Orsino, she must change her identity to survive on the island. How often today do women still feel that they have to change their identities to survive at work or in love? Many women still need Viola’s ingenuity to survive.
Dynamic Adrian Deane plays cunning, wise Feste, a fool and singer with a shaved head, commenting on the action musically. Deane performs David Warner’s lovely new songs, charming us with her insight.
Warner’s compositions, and Bridgette Loriaux’s choreography build a bridge to a new “Twelfth Night.” This new vision focuses on women’s roles and women’s soft powers—replacing the old, competitive male power. Woman power flows through this new “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will.”
Men are fools or worse in the comedy’s subplot. Drunken Sir Toby Belch (playful Robert Parsons) and conniving Sir Andrew Aguecheek (lively Steve Price) put their empty heads together. Along with clever “gentlelady” Mariah (powerhouse Nancy Carlin), the old-style comedians hide under ridiculous flowered headpieces, as they try to dethrone the pompous butler Malvolio (brooding Michael Gene Sullivan).
The end is no surprise to those who know this popular play about love and power, deception and identity. In this new production, you will be surprised by the songs, the dancing, and the softness that brings a new kind of joy. Visit the land of Illyria at Marin Shakes and enjoy a carefully crafted romantic comedy.
“Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare, adapted, directed, & choreographed by Bridgette Loriaux, by Marin Shakespeare Company, San Rafael, California. Info: MarinShakespeare.org – to September 3, 2023.
Cast: Nancy Carlin, Adrian Deane, Stevie DeMott, Justin Lopez, Charisse Loriaux, Johnny Moreno, Robert Parsons, Steve Price, Salim Razawi, and Michael Gene Sullivan.
Photo: Jay Yamada.