You’ll be hard-pressed to find a production of Twelfth Night as beautifully conceived as the one that just opened the Old Globe Theatre’s Summer Shakespeare Festival. Every choice of color, from the azure blue scenic backdrop to scatterings of blood-red roses to Olivia’s ever-changing gowns, is meticulous and exquisite. Each of Feste the fool’s underplayed musical interludes, whether accompanying himself on fiddle or ukulele, intersects the play’s masquerading lovers’ moods or subtly counteracts the mischief of its pranksters. This Twelfth Night is awash in visual and theatrical surprises, all the more impressive for a Shakespearean comedy as frequently staged as this one is.
Much of the praise must go to director Rebecca Taichman, who Globe-goers may remember was at the helm of last year’s lovely and emotive Time and the Conways. Taichman’s intuition about what will touch an audience while propelling the story is very much on view with Twelfth Night. This production is a triumph of unfettered romance (as big as the wheelbarrows full of roses at the start of Act 2) that complements the play’s thinly veiled mistaken identities and broad comic antics (courtesy of Sir Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek, Malvolio and company).
Taichman also has an exceptional cast with which to work, including not only its dipsomaniacal Sir Toby Belch (Tom McGowan), hapless Andrew Aguecheek (Patrick Kerr) and insufferable Malvolio (Robert Joy), but a priceless Olivia (Sara Topham) and a crowd-winning Feste the clown (Manoel Felciano). Rutina Wesley’s Viola is plucky and deft with double-takes, and in this roses-happy staging she probably sees more red than she did while co-starring on HBO’s “True Blood.”
Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting combine to ensure that this Twelfth Night, with director Taichman’s vision at the fore, will carry you away, perhaps to a place where love and laughter in equal measure are as sublime as a soothing summer rain. Which, incidentally, arrived at the very end of the Globe’s opening night performance. Sang Feste, alone on stage at the time: “With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.” And it did.
Ths enchanting show’s got some magic going for it.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.