I never thought I would be able to use this word to describe a Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival production, but its latest take on Twelfth Night – the company’s fourth version – is “conventional.” In a good way.
Perhaps producer/director Seth Trucks had no interest in setting the plot-initiating shipwreck on Mars or turning it into an air crash on a South Pacific island, as PBSF did in 2012. Or from the look at the bare-bones production that opened Thursday evening and continues on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule through Aug. 29, maybe he just didn’t have enough money to pull off a time or place switch convincingly.
I prefer to think that the 31-year-old troupe is turning a new leaf with its latest venue, Commons Park Amphitheater in Royal Palm Beach.
In case you were absent in class the day this classical comedy from 1601 was covered, or perhaps you just weren’t paying attention, here is a brief rundown of the plot. Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated during a violent shipwreck at sea, They survive, but assume that the other has not. Viola makes her way in Illyria, disguised as a guy, Cesario, a practical choice that will lead to complications. In the guise of a man, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, just as the Countess Olivia is drawn romantically to Cesario (a/k/a Viola in male garb.)
The play has a significant subplot involving one of Olivia’s stewards, Malvolio, who broods about in funereal clothes. Here is where the production takes its largest liberty, making the character female – Malvolia – and adding a gay twist to the already gender-bent storyline. That would be justification enough, but in addition the role is cast with one of the company’s most verbally dexterous performers – Elizabeth Price.
Other standouts in the cast include Sara Grant as Viola/Cesario, Timothy Mark Davis (recently of New City Players) as Sir Toby Belch and Madison Fernandez as the fool Feste, who displays a lovely singing voice to original acoustic folk music by the versatile Lubben Brothers. Hmm, maybe this Twelfth Night is not as conventional as it first appeared.
Unlike in past Shakespeare Festival productions, the performance quality does not drop off far after the principal actors. Again, either Trucks cast well or spent considerable time in vocal coaching.
The best that can be said of Ardean Landhuis’s scenic design is that is aims to be minimal and achieves it. Chris Bell’s sound design is crisp and clear, impressive for a venue’s inaugural performance. The Commons Amphitheater is a sturdy stage shell, far nicer than the space the Festival performed in on Jupiter back in 1990. I guess it would be too much to ask for it not to be in the flight path of Palm Beach International airport.
TWELFTH NIGHT, presented by the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival, is playing at Commons Park Amphitheater, 11600 Poinciana Blvd., Royal Palm Beach through Sunday, Aug, 29. Admission free, a $5 donation requested. For more information, go to pbshakespeare.org.