By Arlene McKanic - “Twelfth Night” is based on what may be the dumbest premise in all Shakespeare. We’re supposed to believe that male and female twins, who we must assume have achieved puberty, are indistinguishable from each other when the girl dresses up like a boy.
Certainly, no one in this wacky play, delightfully put on by Queens Shakespeare Inc., can tell them apart. What, has Sebastian not experienced a growth spurt? Has his voice not changed? Does he not have to shave once in a while? Of course, it’s all beside the point — this is Shakespeare and even his silliness is magnificent. And let’s not forget the poetry and sparkling, unmatchable wit: check out this exchange between Feste, Olivia’s clown, and Malvolio, her steward:
Malvolio: Fool, there was never man so notoriously abused. I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art.
Clown: But as well? Then you are mad indeed, if you be no better in your wits than a fool.
The improbable story is this: Duke Orsino of Illyria (i.e. Never−Never Land) thinks he’s pining for Olivia, an equally high−born lady, even though he’s more in love with the thought of love. At any rate, Olivia won’t take suitors — or at least not him — because of her perpetual mourning for her brother.
In the meantime, Viola and her evidently identical twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked. Both think the other has drowned (there’s a lovely bit of action where Sebastian is shown running amongst rippling blue scarves clutching a piece of driftwood). Viola dresses up as the boy Cesario and goes into Orsino’s service — and one of Cesario’s tasks is to woo Olivia for Orsino. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who’s really Viola, and much sport is had from Viola trying to deflect this young noblewoman’s advances.
Then there are the supporting players, led by Olivia’s endlessly drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch. His fellow miscreants include Olivia’s maid Maria, her manservant Fabian and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who’s also in love with Olivia. There’s also the pompous Malvolio, who the rest prank unmercifully.
Meanwhile, Sebastian is washed up, much undamaged, and falls in with Antonio, who offers his adoring service — and his purse. Then Sebastian meets and falls in love with Olivia, who thinks he’s Cesario⁄Viola, who has finally given up and returned her passion. Since this is a comedy, all’s well that ends well, with at least three suitable weddings.
This romp was directed and edited by Nanette Asher and the cast goes about the nonsense joyously. Danny Mikalil Mittermeyer is over the top as Sir Toby, and he’s joined by Rachel Marcus’ wickedly funny Maria, played with a nice brogue; Adam Gallinant as a foppish Sir Andrew; and Miriam Mintz as a droll Fabian — she also plays Curio, one of Orsino’s men.
The beautiful Viktoriya Papayani is nicely haughty as Olivia, and it’s fun to watch her aristocratic composure slip when she falls in love with Cesario and tries to stop herself from giggling over Malvolio in his ghastly yellow stockings and cross garters. Anne Roser is warm and sweet as Viola — now and then she gets a look on her face that asks, ‘Are these people really this stupid?’ — and Jonathan Emerson makes an earnest Sebastian. Yes, he does look like Roser, but not that much. Thomas Cox is appropriately loopy as Orsino, and Rachel Wright is good as both a manservant and a no nonsense officer of the law (“Come sir, I pray you go!” she barks at Antonio, played with lovesick ardor by Brendan Hunt).
Nathanael Vaky is hilarious as Malvolio. His final line, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” is sometimes played with bitterness, but Vaky bellows the line like a man who’s been had before and has simply never learned to see a trick coming. Zack Locuson, running around with popped eyes and bare feet, is a marvelous clown, and David Westcott is good as both the sea captain who helps Viola and the priest who marries Olivia and Sebastian.
The costumes are also lovely, all velvets and silks, with ruffles and bits of lace, and Olivia is draped in beautiful jewels. Near the end there’s some thrilling swordplay between Toby and Sebastian — it’s amazing that Toby, drunk as he always is, can stay on his feet. Kudos to stage combat coach and captain (and clown) Locuson. In all, there’s good work from the production team.
“Twelfth Night” has ended its run at the Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing.