She’s the Man – A review of “Twelfth Night”


By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

On the distant shore of Illyria, our heroine, Viola (Carly Street) escapes a shipwreck. The fierce storm that capsized her boat may have drown her brother Sebastian (Max Rosenak). Now, in a new land, Viola decides to disguise herself as a man to protect herself. Her actions set a comedy of errors in motion in William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

Viola, now under the nom de guerre of Cesario, goes to work for Duke Orsino (Timothy D. Stickney). The Duke begs Cesario to be his messenger and persuade the fair Olivia (Gretchen Egolf) to be his bride. That’s when things get complicated.

Viola loves the Duke and Olivia falls in love with Cesario. A cross-dressing love triangle is born.

But wait! There’s more. Olivia’s house is in disarray because her drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (John Ahlin) and his buddy Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Daniel Krell) are constantly carousing. It’s unnerving the house steward, Malvolio (Bent Harris). Belch wants to continue to eat drink and be merry; so, he, Aguecheek, Fabian (Tony Bingham) and Maria (Helena Ruoti) conspire to undo the malevolent Malvolio.

Meanwhile, Sebastian washes up farther down the shore. Each sibling believes that the other died in the violent storm. Sebastian sets out to make his way to Illyria. When he gets there, no one can tell Sebastian apart from Cesario, and further complications ensue.

Shakespeare throws everything into this jaunty, little comedy, using familiar tropes from the Italian Commedia Dell’arte; disguises, vainglorious misanthropes, love triangles and money-hungry louses. It gets more tangled than a plate of spaghetti. At one point, Viola cries out, “Time, Thou must untangle this, not I!” And time does, after two hours and thirty minutes (with one fifteen minute intermission). Don’t let the run time frighten you, it all goes by briskly. It helps that there is a lot of bawdy humor for the groundlings.

Feste (Mitchell Jarvis) jokes, “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.” He swings his forearm between his legs, in case you don’t get catch his drift.

“Twelfth Night’ even gets metatextual when Fabian remarks, “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” It is improbable, Fabian, but it’s a lot of good, not-so-clean fun.

One of the improbabilities is that Street doesn’t look very masculine. Her drag king performance is reminiscent of Lucille Ball’s performances as men, wearing a moustache but still retaining her bright red lipstick. Street’s eyes sparkle, she has long lashes and her bosom is barely concealed. From behind and maybe a greater distance, she and Rosenak do look similar thanks to costume designer Gabriel Berry. However, since there isn’t a bad seat in the O’Reilly, it’s hard to get your willing suspension of disbelief on board for the ride.

Ted Pappas directs “Twelfth Night” with a flourish. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but I suppose the material is meant to be played broadly.

Street is enchanting in the role. It’s not hard to imagine people falling in love with her. Stickney and Egolf are delightful love interests. Mitchell Jarvis sings, dances and jokes his way through the show as the clown, Feste. His charms are irresistible.

It’s a terrific cast. Ahlin, Krell, Ruoti, and Bingham get a lot of laughs. They are very humorous humans. However, the victim of their cruel jest, Malvolio, is a magnificent role for Harris. He commands every scene he is in. It’s a shame Shakespeare didn’t give the character a finer denouement. Since all the other discordant plotlines wrap up so neatly, we can let the Bard off the hook.

James Noone’s set is spectacular, two villas separated by a stately courtyard, including a revolving gazebo with a baby grand piano on it.

The comedian Feste sings the last line, “But that’s all one, our play is done, and we’ll strive to please you every day.” It was very pleasing play.

“Twelfth Night” runs till February 26 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

– MB

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