by Beki Pineda

TWELFTH NIGHT – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Timothy Orr. Produced by Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Mary Rippon Theatre, Broadway and Euclid, Boulder) through August 11. Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or cupresents.org.

courtesy CU Presents/CSF

Let me make the unequivocal statement that this is the funniest TWELFTH NIGHT I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot. The excellence of this production can be laid at the feet of the outstanding cast who lost themselves in the story telling and the insightful and creative direction of Timothy Orr who found the humor in throw-away lines and inventive stage business. This lovely evening flowed like the oceanic waves that threw Viola and Sebastian upon the beach. The brilliant blues of the set placed you solidly in the mystical land of Illyria somewhere along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

The complicated plot involving – of course – twins, shipwrecks, women passing as men, unlikely romances – everything we love in a Shakespeare comedy. This version is played classically with set, costumes and language while infused with a modern emotional context. Even your youngest play-goer will understand and laugh out loud at these antics. They will also learn a valuable lesson about bullying as poor Malvolio (an absolutely brilliant Gareth Saxe in a return visit to the Shakes) gets pranked and becomes a pitiful defeated man.

Let’s start with the mismatched lovers. Amber Scales in her second season takes the lead role as Viola (or Cesario when dressed as a man). Her shy awkward flirty actions when dressed as Cesario puzzle Orsino (a handsome and manly Marco Robinson) who seems very confused by his feelings of affection toward who he thinks is a man. She manages to fend off the romantic advances of the enthusiastically besotted Olivia (played with childlike charm by Jessica Robblee who finally made it to CSF). Viola is supposed to be representing Orsino to Olivia for himself but finds herself the object of Olivia’s affections. What seems confusing in the telling is crystal clear in the playing.

A secondary silly subplot involves people in Olivia’s household. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a supposed suitor to Olivia as well but is such a buffoon that no one can take him seriously. Rodney Lizcano in a fright wig runs through the gamut of emotions from arrogant and haughty to a frightened coward to righteously indignant and finally a confused clown all the time. He is abetted in his pursuit of Olivia by Robert Sicular as Toby Belch, a relative of Olivia’s who wants to retain his position in her household by getting “his” man into her bed. Good luck with that!! These two have the assistance of Maria, her maid.  Emma Messenger who is also celebrating her first season at CSF is a perfect Maria with her bushy blonde hair, her sly smile and devious mind. I’ve already told you how good Gareth Saxe is as Malvolio, Olivia’s steward. His arrogance and disdain are his downfall. When his secret feelings for Oliva are revealed, he goes to the top of the mountain emotionally when he thinks his feelings are returned – which makes his fall from grace all the more poignant. The audience was literally tearing up at his shaming. A powerful way to illustrate the effects of pranking or bullying some unsuspecting innocent.

Melding the two plots creates all the versions of comic love stories you can imagine. Throw in the original music written and performed by Rinde Eckert as Feste, Olivia’s jester, for yet another layer of fun. A drumming duet involving Feste and Viola starts Act Two and makes the audience smile. The beautiful blue tiled wall that surrounds the courtyard which provides a brilliant backdrop was designed by Caitlin Ayer.  Meaghan Anderson Doyle’s widows weeds (for Oliva who is mourning the loss of her brother), Malvolio’s ridiculous yellow stockings, and matching outfits for the twins helped move the story into clarity.

May I just repeat – you will not find a funnier or easier to follow TWELFTH NIGHT to share with your friends and family.  Go. See. It.

A WOW factor of 9.5!!