LA PLATA, Md. – The resetting of Shakespearean plays is a time-honored tradition within the theatre community that began the moment one of the bard’s plays was first restaged. During the original run of his roughly 38 plays, the concept of a director did not yet exist. Instead, the mounting of a play was left up to the actors’ individual interpretations of the text. Since having a director is now the norm for all theatrical productions, every Shakespearean play that is now produced is an imaginative resetting by default. Some productions are more clever than others (think Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet) while others adhere religiously to the time period of the piece (Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet). The Port Tobacco Players’ (PTP) newest production of Twelfth Night finds a happy nook somewhere between these two polar opposites.
Set on the fictitious island of Illyria, the story follows twins Viola and Sebastian as they are shipwrecked and separated from each other. Viola seeks refuge with the Duke Orsino under the guise that she is a young man named Cesario. The duke is in love with a woman named Olivia, who he enlists Cesario to woo on his behalf. Olivia meets Cesario and falls in love with him instead. From there, the amount of plot threads and characters multiply, as do the comedic sequences. Twelfth Night weaves quite the tangled web of storylines that keeps the audience engaged in the narrative the entire time.
Chris Magee’s set design creates a French-inspired villa set in the post-World War II era with multiple levels, stairs, a fountain, and impressive depth that allows the story to leap off of the stage, just as Shakespeare would have intended. Ivy climbs the walls and various elements of the set in order to convey the disarray of Olivia’s home since her period of mourning began. Further usage of plants throughout the villa brings a full-bodied feel to the set, and by extension, the story. The set is mostly static, but it suits the briskly paced play by allowing the story to flow effortlessly without the distraction of clunky scene changes.
Costume design by Lisa Magee brings an aesthetically appealing aspect to this production that is an absolute feast for the eyes. The use of different colors and shades to convey the nature of characters or to elicit a laugh is quite enjoyable to behold. Her use of color layering creates a visual balance that is sure to render the audience thoroughly satisfied. Of particular note were the costumes for the three singing sisters (sweetly played by Coleen Bremner, Becky Norris Kuhn, and Tara Waters) that would grace the stage throughout the show. Their costumes during their final song contained several shades of brown that played against each other beautifully.
While the entire cast of this production goes full throttle with their energy and enthusiasm for the duration of the show, there were five actors that I found to be of particular note – Kaitelyn Bauer Dieguez as Viola/Cesario, Anthony Dieguez as Duke Orsino, Nathan Daetwyler as Sebastian, Jay Hunter as Antonio, and Brenna Prestidge as Malvolio.
Bauer Dieguez brings an innate sympathetic sweetness to her character that allows the audience to vicariously experience the story through her eyes, while also rounding out her character with tangible wit. Dieguez’s Orsino feels reminiscent of the clueless, slightly pompous, but ultimately tender man that everyone has known at some point in their lives. Both of them are able to produce a sense of joy within the audience during their respective performances. They play opposite of each other and the result is a romantic chemistry so intense that it can be felt even at the back of the theater. The two are spouses in real life, and that truly is the only way I can plausibly explain how perfect an acting pair they make.
Daetwyler’s interpretation of Sebastian adds a gorgeous emotional, yet youthful depth to the character that unabashedly pulls at your heartstrings whenever he connects with his fellow actors (specifically with Jay Hunter as Antonio and Dana Gattuso as Olivia). Hunter crafts a protective figure that evokes the most earnest feelings of touching intimacy whenever he plays opposite Daetwyler. Throughout different sequences, his eyes tell a soulful story without him even having to utter a word. The two’s onstage friendship feels so authentically sincere that they had me shipping them as real life best friends the whole time.
Prestidge rounds out the cast with a female version of Malvolio that lies somewhere between a high school mean girl and the Dowager Countess of Grantham Violet Crawley of Downton Abbey during Act I. Once Act II begins, her character transforms into the sympathetic, but hysterical character that somehow feels good to both laugh at and with. Seeing an actress portray a traditionally male role in a way that finds the perfect balance between both the original character and the feminine nature of her version was utterly wonderful to witness.
Rachel Wallace’s direction breathes fresh life into the bard’s classic comedy, while still honoring his words’ original intent. Her unique choice of a French-inspired post-World War II setting for the story was further enhanced by the addition of three singers who would sing old-timey tunes during pivotal scenes. The song that was sung during a picnic that Cesario and Orsino share, helped to drive home their budding but complicated romance in a way that only music could have done. Wallace also really leans into the more queer elements of the story with the addition of a female, unashamedly lesbian Malvolio to excellent results. Here’s to hoping more productions at PTP will continue to be open to proper LGBTQ representation.
I have always been a firm believer that viewing Shakespearean plays live, in person, contains the capacity to make all of us better, more well-rounded individuals. Shakespeare wasn’t known for being the most original author, but he was known for his unparalleled way with words that never cease in their relevancy. PTP’s production of Twelfth Night proves this with its original take on the well-known play. It’s a night (or afternoon) out that will both leave you in stitches with laughter and leave you feeling slightly more intellectual when you exit the theater than when you entered. Go buy a ticket right now and thank me later. Seriously, you’re welcome.
The approximate run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
This show contains very minor cursing and Shakespeare’s typical bawdy humor.
Twelfth Night will be playing at 508 Charles Street La Plata, MD 20646 from January 20th through February 5th, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here.
Photos provided by the Port Tobacco Players.
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