Around in one form or another since 1930, the Ross Valley Players have long been entertaining local audiences with a mixture of world-renown classics, Broadway hits, and contemporary plays. Notably missing from their decades-long season’s lists has been anything written by William Shakespeare. The opening production of their 89th season rectifies that.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) tale of twins separated by a shipwreck surrounded with elements of impersonation, mistaken identity, unrequited love, and trickery.
After the ship on which she and her brother are traveling sinks, Viola (Robyn Graham) finds herself washed upon the shore of Illyria. To better survive in the foreign, patriarchal land, she disguises herself as a lad named Cesario and finds employ with Duke Orsino (Jackson Currier.) The Duke is madly in love with the perpetually brother-mourning Olivia (Melanie Bandra-Hess) and sends Cesario to represent him. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, Cesario falls in love with the Duke, and chaos ensues when Viola’s supposedly-drowned twin brother Sebastian (Ian Wilcox) shows up. Adding to the mayhem is a plot by Olivia’s perpetually-soused uncle Sir Toby Belch (Steve Price) and several of the house staff to make a fool of Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Malcom Rogers) by making him believe that Olivia has fallen in love with him.
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays, and its success is usually dependent on a director finding the right balance between the love stories and the comic sublots. Director Jennifer LeBlanc’s uneven production leans heavily toward the subplot side to the point of overwhelming the lovers’ story.
It may simply be a case of casting as the actors filling the “secondary” character roles are so strong and funny in their characterizations as to steal the show. Steve Price’s hilarious Sir Toby is a marvel of inebriated unctuousness, constantly teetering on the precipice of collapse yet able to participate in the takedown of the haughty Malvolio. Malvolio’s transformation from stuffed shirt to yellow-gartered buffoon to wounded victim is well played by Rogers. Michel Benton Harris does the almost-impossible as Toby’s patsy Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Often played as an annoyingly foppish idiot, Harris manages to underplay the role and makes the teddy bear-carrying character cute and almost loveable. The energy provided by these characters almost compensates for the blandness of most others.
It’s a noble first go-round for the Players and the Bard.
‘Twelfth Night’ runs through October 21 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Ross. Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8 pm; Sunday, 2 pm. $10 – $27. 415.883.4498. rossvalleyplayers.com
Photos by Robin Jackson
This review appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.