William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is, by any measure, a remarkable comedy. Not only does this undeniably complex, who-is-really-whom love triangle overflow with some …
William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is, by any measure, a remarkable comedy. Not only does this undeniably complex, who-is-really-whom love triangle overflow with some of the Bard’s greatest monologues and most memorable lines, it also manages to balance humor and pathos in a manner that, when put across with intelligence and flair, lingers long in the mind and heart.
Now Saltfire Theatre’s “Twelfth Night” may be staged with a local cast in Port Townsend rather than by pros in a Broadway theatre or Shakespeare’s Globe in London, but the cast is so committed—so good at expressing the essence of Shakespeare’s genius—that the production exceeds expectations. Simply put, it’s marvelous.
Staged “in the square”— the most practical application of “theater in the round” possible in the JFK Building at Fort Worden’s open, lively space—Saltfire’s “Twelfth Night” benefits from Genevieve E. Barlow’s sure direction and casting. Barlow deserves extra plaudits for making explicit the play’s same-sex attraction elements while underscoring Shakespeare’s brilliance.
As Viola, the shipwrecked twin sister of the thought-dead Sebastian (Scott Bahlmann), Ciel Pope provides an ideal gender-fluid mix of energy and passion. She’s funny when Shakespeare commands her to be, and moving when her disguise as Cesario eventually comes undone.
Playing the beauteous Lady Olivia, who is far more attracted to Cesario (Viola) than to her would-be suitor, nobleman Orsino (Nick Magles), Maude Eisele conquers a role that suits her to a “T.” Passion, incredulity, outrage, love, and the ability to navigate sharp turns, with far greater agility than many of us drove through our recent snow, all come to Eisele with apparent ease. Seeing Pope and Eisele together on stage is a joyfest for even the most sophisticated theater afficionado.
There are two other must-see standouts: Judd Farris as the jester, Feste, and Bahlemann as the smaller, late-appearing Sebastian. Farris’ masterful way with words is fully equaled by his larger-than-life athleticism, agility, and energy. As much as he could benefit from a few singing lessons, he’s a marvel. Bahlemann may have far less time onstage, but his wonderfully expressive, ever-fascinating countenance registers every iota of confusion and eventual joy as he is mistaken for his thought-dead sister in male disguise.
Several other performers deserve copious credit. As Olivia’s initially locked-shut maidservant, Malvolia, regional regular Michelle Hensel has a ball. Her transformation to a love-crazed, fashion-disaster lesbian (not that such an identity even existed in Shakespeare’s time) is hilarious. Charley Pope (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) also succeeds admirably as a lovable drunk who has far more smarts to offer than might initially meet the eye.
Is there room for improvement? Magles does fine as Orino, but could be even more noble and commanding. The lovable Zach Nesmith (Sir Toby Belch) needs to work more on projecting his lines and making them understandable as he turns in various directions. He could also sink even deeper into his 77- proof character. Jason Noltemeier (Maria) plays evil queen to the manner born, but could add more dimensionality to the character. Laura Cornell (Curio / Musical Composition) would do well to stand and play rather than register sympathetic and not-so expressions to multiple characters’ words and actions. Other cast members could benefit from believing more in the importance of their so-called “minor characters” and realizing that every line and gesture is important. And Saltfire Theatre itself could prevent lots of page-turning and confusion by amending the program with a list of characters in order of appearance.
Because this Twelfth Night is virtually sold out, the run has been extended through Jan. 28. It’s a night I urge you not to miss. For tickets, see SaltfireTheatre.org