‘Twelfth Night’ Is Fun, but Fails to Add Up

Share via

Queen Elizabeth I was bored. So she commissioned William Shakespeare to write a light, festive piece to entertain her court and the populace, and celebrate the 12th night of Christmas.

What he created was more than a partridge in a pear tree or 12 lords a-leaping. “Twelfth Night” was probably his frothiest and most charming comedy. Of course, the title has nothing to do with the play, only the evening it was first performed.

Well before the holiday season, it’s on view at Brea’s Curtis Theatre, under the auspices of Fullerton’s Vanguard Theatre.


Whipping it all together, like any good playwright, Shakespeare used ingredients from his usual mixture. There’s the great “britches” part of Viola. In Shakespeare’s day it was sort of a joke that all female roles were played by adolescent boys, and the Bard enjoyed having these heroines “disguise” themselves as adolescent boys.

And then there are the twins, in this case brother and sister who have been in a shipwreck (that has a familiar Shakespearean ring), and, believing the other lost, get involved in all kinds of mischief.

Here Viola, for some unexplained reason, dons male clothing identical to her brother’s and becomes the aide-de-camp of Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. As his messenger Cesario, Viola pursues Orsino’s courtship of Olivia, a powerful local countess. Of course, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, not knowing she’s a she. The surrounding characters bring even less soberness to the tale.

“Twelfth Night” is sitcom, pure and simple, and always lots of fun, even in an uneven production as this Vanguard staging. Director Erin Saporito has wisely kept everything moving at a good clip but, with only a few exceptions, has not been able to imbue it with much style.

The production is by the book, and in that light is amusing and keeps its audience chuckling, but there are no big laughs. It’s a play that needs high style, just as Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde and other British playwrights do.

Very close to this stylish manner are Russell Marchand, as a very festive Feste, jester to Olivia, and Brian Prescott’s giddy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, with Penelope Van Horne running close to them as Olivia’s attendant, who mixes more than she should in the twisted events that shape the humor of the play.


Rachel Rawlins stands out as Viola, frequently being most believable as a young woman disguised as a young man. She knows how to make it work. In the lesser role of Sebastian, Viola’s brother, who turns up and helps sort things out, Kirk Blackinton is as stalwart and forthright as he should be, and works well against Rawlins’ Viola.

Christopher Younggren is a model Orsino, with a rich voice that reverberates in Shakespeare’s verse, and Marcia Bonnitz is a classy Olivia, although a bit mature cast against Younggren and Rawlins.

Brian Page as the high comic Sir Toby Belch and Clay Eichelberger as even higher comic Malvolio, are at odds with their purpose. Both play their gossamer roles as though they’re deadly serious characters, too heavy-footed for the production’s good.

* “Twelfth Night,” Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Drive, Brea. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Through Sunday. $15. (714) 990-7722. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Christopher Younggren: Orsino

Rachel Rawlins: Viola

Russell Marchand: Feste

Brian Page: Toby Belch

Marcia Bonnitz: Olivia

Clay Eichelberger: Malvolio

Brian Prescott: Andrew Aguecheek

Kirk Blackinton: Sebastian

A Vanguard Theatre Ensemble and Curtis Theatre production of Shakespeare’s comedy. Directed by Erin Saporito. Scenic design: Lara Hanneman. Lighting design: Bob Mumm. Sound design: K. Robert Eaton. Costume design: Penelope Van Horne. Music direction: Cynthia Azarcon. Stage managers: Ryan Maes and Michele Petersen.