Though a play based on duality, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” has a beautifully complex love triangle at its heart.
Lovesick Duke Orsino despondently pines for the grieving Countess Olivia, who has recently lost both her father and brother. She has no interest in Orsino’s affections but Orsino’s messenger, Cesario, provides an unexpected bridge to her repressed feelings. Cesario, though, is actually Viola, and she is in love with Orsino.
A romantic comedy streaked with melancholy, the play moves from tragedy to celebration in a beautifully performed new production at Sacramento Theatre Company, which captures the robust comic spirit of the play and often unveils its divided soul.
Co-directors Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower have moved Shakespeare’s Illyria to an 18th-century British Caribbean colony. The sensibility doesn’t always stick. The setting feels more European than tropical with Illyria mired in a repressed, unhappy grind rather than experiencing a burgeoning social cultural transition. The action moves from a shipwreck on the coast where the beguiling Viola comes ashore, to the palace of brooding Duke Orsino, and finally to the home of resolute Countess Olivia. The narrative also splits itself between the esoteric dueling upstairs love affairs and earthy downstairs shenanigans.
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Lissome Alicia Hunt’s clever Viola provides the production with a sprightly fulcrum as she pings between the two suitors. Her twin brother, Sebastian (the amiable Aaron Kitchin), eventually arrives, evening out the romantic couples. Melinda Parrett’s elegant Olivia seems the more likely match for Ryan Snyder’s slowly simmering Orsino even as she becomes enamored with Hunt’s resourceful Cesario, which makes the final pairings feel more constructed than inevitable and fitting. Still, the fine trio all develop characters who intimately and passionately unfold before us.
The production’s outstanding comedy component comes courtesy of Chris Vettel as the officious Malvolio, Don Hayden as the merry prankster Sir Toby Belch, Taylor Vaughan as the mischevious Maria, and a glorious Justin Muñoz as the blustery Sir Andrew Aguecheek. This ensemble never wavers.
Noah Lee Hayes also has a strong turn as the shrewd, knowing Feste, who entertains with his bittersweet songs and barbed word play.
The play emphasizes transitions and human changeability: Viola becomes Cesario; despondent Olivia suddenly becomes enraptured with Cesario; Orsino ultimately switches affections from Olivia to Viola; servant Malvolio imagines himself the master; lost Sebastian is found. But a stubborn stoicism of production values inhibits the mutability suggested in the text.
Directors Blackinton and Harrower push a smart pace for the lushly costumed production only slowing for late set changes, though the narrative feels hemmed in by designer Eric Broadwater’s beautifully sun-bleached city walls and back-alley ways.
What: Sacramento Theatre Company presents Shakespeare’s comedy, directed by Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower.
Where: STC Main Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: Continuing through Sunday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.