Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s “Short Shakespeare! Twelfth Night” is a delightful campy comedy designed for younger audiences, yet enjoyed by all ages. In fact, Director Kirsten Kelly did her own adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which means this version will never be seen anywhere else! My recommendation, call for tickets today, you don’t want to miss this 4 Spotlight production!
Each year, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre brings thousands of students into the Courtyard Theatre for Short Shakespeare! In years past, I’ve seen abridged versions of “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “Macbeth”. It seemed to me that CST usually chose plays that were included in the high school curriculum. “Twelfth Night”, on the other hand, is new to most students who have never experienced Shakespeare’s comedy. It was a joy to watch their uninhibited enjoyment of the performance.
Instead of using the standard cellphone/texting/photography recorded announcement, a costumed cast member – in this performance, Nate Santana, who plays Sebastian – reminded the audience that cell phones didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s day. He also gave the audience tips on understanding Shakespeare’s use of language. He said that actors’ body language is often the key to better understanding the words.
“Short Shakespeare! Twelfth Night” began and ended with music. No orchestra, however, instead the music was played by the cast members. In fact, in the final song, most of the cast were playing musical instruments – guitar, ukulele, cajon and banjulele – as they sang. By the way, a piano is a key component of the set – and not just for playing music – it’s also a convenient hiding place!
“Twelfth Night” begins with a shipwreck which separates Viola (Rebecca Hurd) from her twin brother, Sebastian (Nate Santana). Wanting to be safe after she washed up on the coast of the mythical Illyria, Viola (Rebecca Hurd), disguises herself as a man.
Duke Orsino (Neal Moeller), in love with a woman he’s never met, spends a lot of time flinging himself about, weeping and wailing over her portrait. Viola, now calling herself Cesario, joins Orsino’s courtiers, Valentine (Colin Morgan) and Curio (Nik Kmiecik), in serving the Duke. When Orsino hears that Countess Olivia (Krystel Lucas) has announced that she’s seeing no one because she’s going to mourn her dead brother for the next seven years, he sends Cesario to Olivia with a token of his love, setting
Countess Olivia wears unrelieved black, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief whenever she thinks someone is watching. Her companions, Maria (Lydia Berger Gray), her gentlewoman, Malvolio (La Shawn Banks), her Steward, Fabian (Donovan Diaz), her servant, surround her, keeping suitors like Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dominic Conti) away. Feste (Will Mobley), the Fool, tries to cheer her up. Her uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Ronald Conner), thinks she’s nuts, and says so. When Cesario arrives, she even pulls a veil over her face – an action copied by her servants.
Everyone in Olivia’s household loathes the supercilious Malvolio. The gang of four, Sir Toby, his friend Sir Andrew, Maria and Fabian, decide to teach him a lesson, sending him a letter supposedly written by Olivia, confessing her love. The letter instructs him to wear cross-gartered yellow (a color and style Olivia hates), to which he adds yellow underwear, and meet her in her bedroom. Hiding around the room, the gang of four gleefully watch him get his comeuppance. I’ve never really understood the term ‘high dudgeon’ until I watched Malvolio stalk up the aisle. La Shawn Banks is brilliant in the part.
Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario/Viola who is in love with Orsino. Orsino is uneasy because he has feelings for Cesario/Viola. Meanwhile, Sebastian and Antonio (Lynn Robert Berg), the man who rescued him, making their way to Illyria, end up at Olivia’s home. In the end, the twins are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after!
After the show, the actors stayed on stage to answer questions from the audience, followed by conversations and photo ops in the lobby. I was impressed by the insightful questions the kids asked.
During its four-week run in the Courtyard Theater, “Short Shakespeare! Twelfth Night” will be seen by 1,000 students per day, after which it will be going on a four week-long tour to schools across the Midwest through May 6th. The very same set, as seen in the Courtyard Theater, will travel in a 20-foot long box truck to each school. Once there, a crew of eight will transform the available venue, whether auditorium, gym or classroom, in order to give students the experience of a fully realized professional performance. In addition, CST will lead free professional development workshops for teachers as well as providing show-specific materials and activities for students.
“Short Shakespeare! Twelfth Night” runs through April 9th at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. Running time is 75 minutes, no intermission. Public performances are on Saturdays at 11:00 am. Adult tickets are $34, children’s tickets (12 and under) are $22. Patrons receive a 40% discount on parking in the Navy Pier Garages, so be sure and get your ticket validated in the CST lobby. FYI (312) 595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Twelfth Night”