Review: A ‘Twelfth Night’ romp: Giddiness, fun and a hint of magic
First came the fireworks that boomed like a lover’s heartbeat during a scene of swooning in “Twelfth Night.”
Then came the freakishly well-timed sprinkles that dappled the Old Globe audience in the show’s final moments, as the jester Feste sang the words: “For the rain it raineth every day.” (In summer in San Diego? Not so much, pal.)
The sort of serendipity that accompanied opening night of the Shakespeare favorite on the Globe’s outdoor stage is a little hard to explain. Thank the weather gods and, apparently, SeaWorld’s pyrotechnics people — or else tremble at director Rebecca Taichman’s impressive pull.
Those episodes, though, actually felt of a piece with her approach to the Bard’s great, complex comedy of love and loss, a play that’s equal parts giddy and wistful.
This sumptuous and well-acted production has a loose, see-what-sticks vibe that serves the work’s comic elements a bit better than it does a sense of cohesiveness.
That feeling is borne out in the music (a key part of any “Twelfth Night”); the show boasts gorgeous scoring by the distinguished composer Todd Almond, but its second half opens with the (very different) recorded strains of Geneviève Waïte’s quirky 1973 tune “Love Is Coming Back.”
As a matchless Feste, Manoel Felciano — who happens to be a concert violinist — wades into the audience to do a little busking and proceeds to play everything from the “Star Wars” theme to “Stayin’ Alive.”
Some contemporized lines also contribute to a woozy conception of time and place, and David Israel Reynoso’s fetching and often witty costumes (check the audacious snakeskin pants on Patrick Kerr as Andrew Aguecheek) likewise seem to draw from a riot of styles and eras.
Amid the play’s ever-expanding web of romantic entanglements, Taichman and Co. conjure some memorable stage pictures: The wheelbarrows full of roses that a gaggle of young women trundle out gleefully and toss around; the amusing impulse among the duke Orsino’s acolytes to mimic his poses; the way the lovesick noblewoman Olivia shouts “Stay!” and prostrates herself comically on the turf when the object of her ardor begins to exit.
Less necessary is a surfeit of flatulence gags and a scene involving the central character Viola spinning out of a ribbon of fabric binding her that seems to echo one (also involving a Viola) from the movie “Shakespeare in Love.”
In terms of tone, the transition between the more somber first half and the love-besotted second also feels a little abrupt, and it takes some time for the play to find its bearings again.
Same for a playgoer. But then, a sense of being at sea is part of the point: The action begins, after all, with the shipwrecked Viola (the sharp Rutina Wesley of HBO’s “True Blood”) splashing onto the shores of mystical, mythical Illyria.
Literally splashing, in this case: Riccardo Hernandez’s elemental set includes a narrow pond that wraps around the rear of the stage.
Being at sea is also a function of romantic love, as Viola finds when she disguises herself as a young man named Cesario (Wesley affects a good boyish swagger here) and falls for her new boss, Orsino (Terence Archie, nailing the character’s macho self-regard).
If you know “Twelfth Night” — not to mention Shakespeare’s fascination with mistaken identity — you know where things go from here. Orsino pines for the noble Olivia (an excitable and funny Sara Topham), who has in turn gone gaga for Cesario.
Meanwhile, the mischievous quartet of Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch (Tom McGowan), Fabian (Daniel Petzold) and Maria (Amy Aquino) plot to convince Olivia’s priggish steward, Malvolio (Robert Joy), that the divine Ms. O loves him.
Kerr makes the ridiculous sublime (and gets great laughs) with his nutty dance moves as Aguecheek, and the excellent Joy has a show-stopping moment as he riffs on a riddle from a love letter supposedly penned by Olivia. (The scene actually seems to send up generations of Shakespeare scholars who have fussed over the same conundrum.)
Then Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (LeRoy McClain), whom she presumed dead, miraculously reappears, and Viola reveals herself as a woman.
And that, of course, solves everything.
Between this show’s infectious sense of romantic exuberance and the prospect of precipitation in June, you might even believe it.
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