In Elizabethan England, the twelve days of Christmas were festivity days – none more so that the twelfth, when the partying could get really crazy and masters and servants, in a frenzy of masquerade, would sometimes exchange roles.
It’s from this tradition that Shakespeare is assumed to have derived the title for Twelfth Night, along with the name Feste, the play’s wonderfully wise fool. It’s also the spirit in which director Melissa Chalsma has shaped the Independent Shakespeare Company’s current production, an outdoor event staged free for the public in Griffith Park. While not a dazzling effort, it’s surely an appealing and entertaining one.
Abetted by costume designer Garry Lennon, Chalsma overlays the story with an Edwardian flavor. This helps crystallize the class differences between the trio ensnared in the tangled love triangle upstairs and the rowdier folks in the servants’ quarters below. In the former group are Viola (Kalean Ung), a female castaway impersonating a man, Count Orsino (Ryan Vincent Anderson), her employer whom she adores, and Olivia (Claudia de Vasco), the noblewoman passionately smitten with Viola’s male alter ego Cesario and herself the object of the Count’s woefully unrequited passion.
Having far more fun are the household help and two renegade noblemen: Olivia’s uncle, the perpetually soused Sir Toby Belch (Danny Campbell) and his equally debauched sidekick, Sir Anthony Aguecheek (Andre Martin). The antics of these characters, along with the earthy housekeeper Maria (Bernadette Sullivan) and the randy maidservant Fabian (Julia Aks) as they plot the comeuppance of Olivia’s sourpuss steward Malvolio (Luis Galindo) are adeptly executed and supremely funny. Chalsma’s staging of the duel over Olivia’s favors between its two panicky participants, Sir Anthony and Viola/Cesario, is the evening’s hilarious highlight.
Less engaging are the scenes involving the lovers. These lack sufficient chemistry and conviction — the aspects of a performance that transport us beyond the text. Though serviceable, Ung’s presence is still being defined by her relationship with Shakespeare’s language, and the encounters between her character and Olivia are not nearly as visceral or intimate as they could be. Anderson’s rendering of the Count leaves much interior emotional space unexplored.
In the end, the production’s crowning asset is David Melville’s quintessentially clever fool – nimble in his moves, irreverent in his attitude, incisive in his wit. It’s a gem of a performance in which are coalesced all the disparate elements of this mighty work.
The Old Zoo in Griffith Park, Hlywd; through August 31. (818) 710-6306, www.iscla.org.
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Correction: An earlier version of this post had the wrong name for the costume designer. The actual costume designer is Garry Lennon. It also had the wrong spelling of a performer's name — the actual spelling is Kalean Ung.
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