Review: Twelfth Night

Kaleb Michael Bruza in Twelfth Night                                    Photo Provided

By Larry Laneer
February 11, 2019

In this cold season, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park offers up a warm surprise in its nifty staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Theatergoers suffered through a lack of quality play productions last year, so let’s hope this show presages things to come in 2019.

Directed by Kathryn McGill at OSP’s Paseo space, the play involves separated twins, a favorite Shakespearean theme. A ship carrying twins Viola and Sebastian sinks, and each thinks the other has drowned. But they wash up separately on the shores of Illyria. Viola disguises herself as the eunuch Cesario to get into the court of Orsino, duke of Illyria, where she falls in love with him, while he is infatuated with Olivia, a rich countess. Orsino sends Cesario (that is, Viola in disguise) to help woo Oliva, and the countess falls in love with “him.” Soon, Viola realizes Olivia loves her (as Cesario), while Viola loves Orsino, and Orsino loves Olivia. Confused? So is Viola. She says: “O Time, thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me t’ untie.”

McGill has brought together an outstanding cast, several of whom are new. Jessa Schinske could hardly be a more appealing as Viola. Emotions riddle the character. She has just lost her twin brother, disguised herself as a young man, fallen love with the duke, and become the object of an older woman’s eye—all in the play’s first five scenes. Schinske’s strong performance ranges from heartfelt to slapstick.

Kaleb Michael Bruza as the fool Feste, Stephen Hilton as Sir Toby Belch, and Nicholas Sumpter as Sir Andrew Aguecheek give the show a comedic edge. Bruza’s Feste is an agent provocateur (like Trump’s Roger Stone!). As Sir Toby, the seasoned professional Hilton gives the production a credibility few other actors could achieve. (Interestingly, for all the time Bruza and Hilton have worked in city theater, this is their first OSP show.) Sumpter plays Sir Andrew as a slightly addled, if benign, goofball. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew could be called the Two Stooges.

As Olivia, Sarah Lomize goes from widow’s weeds to full cougar in pursuit of young Cesario. Onnika Hanson pulls androgynous triple duty in three roles, one female and two males (McGill changed Antonio to Antonia) and nails the trio in a remarkable supporting performance. Lindsey Rollins is excellent as Maria, and she’s a terrific singer.

Jordan Nicholes as Orsino and Kris Kuss as Sebastian (both new to me) give fine performances with relatively little stage time compared to the other characters. Theatergoers should look forward to seeing more of them.

None other than Hal Kohlman does a top-notch job (no surprise) as Malvolio. The character comes as close to being a villain as Twelfth Night has, but Kohlman’s performance gains the audience’s sympathy. His final exit at the reviewed performance drew “aws” from the audience.

McGill has done something interesting with the relationship between Orsino and Viola disguised as the young man Cesario. The older Orsino, who has been relentlessly pursuing Oliva, seems somewhat mystified by his attraction to Cesario. McGill skillfully keeps it subtle, but you can see hands held a little too long, a lingering look, or an innocent, but suggestive, kiss on the forehead. Of course, at the end Orsino and Viola get together, but McGill has given a contemporary tint to the play.

The production’s design also bends time. Emily Herrera’s tasteful costumes look like they range from 1950 back to about 1750. Scenic design by Robert Rickner replicates an Elizabethan theater in miniature with a Juliet balcony upstage center flanked by two matching wooden doors. OSP’s Paseo venue can be frustrating. This production takes place on a raised platform at one end of the long, rectangular space. Sightlines are pretty good for the most part.

The production features a fine musical score. In addition to acting in the show, Hilton and Bruza set Shakespeare’s lyrics to music and composed two original songs. Hilton’s jaunty “Magic in the Moonlight” opens and closes the second act and sounds like it could have been written in 1919. The entire cast sings and plays accompaniment on guitar (Hilton), banjo (Bruza), soprano saxophone (Kuss), and light percussion. Bruza also takes a turn on accordion early in the show.

Overall, the production is more sweetly good-natured than hilariously side-splitting. But the show better be good because it runs almost three hours. It’s a nice start to the year for plays.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through March 2
2:00 p.m. Sundays, February 17and 24
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
2920 Paseo