A towering structure of rusty gridiron looms in front of the audience. The air is misty, although indoors, thick with a dreamy kind of fog. Faintly, the sound of water trickling, of drizzly raindrops falling, can be heard. Welcome to “Twelfth Night.”
The UW School of Drama’s rendition of this Shakespearean cross-dressing comedy is straight whimsy with a heavy dose of the mystical. The world is loosely set in the 1920s; only the costumes and the music are taken from that time period. The words are pure Shakespeare and the rest is completely modern day. The performances from the cast are a joy to watch; the timing of everything has been perfected. Comedy and music are truly able to take center stage in this production.
A brass band — named The Lords of Misrule and complete with piano, trombone, and tuba — sit on stage for almost the entirety of the play. The music they create is catchy yet telling; it plays a character’s part in the play rather than remaining only in the background. A grand relationship is formed between many of the characters and the band, creating an even stronger connection between show and audience.
One member of The Lords doubles as a character in the play. The actress is Hazel Lozano, and her voice is sweet and strong when it takes the spotlight. Likewise, actor Joe Ngo performs as musician, vocalist, and as Feste, the fool. He is the play’s most important character without needing to be one of the leads; he acts as the narrator, and a guide, bringing the audience into the world of the play and using his music to urge the story forward. His voice, like Lozano’s, is a joy to hear. Paired with either an acoustic guitar or a ukulele, Ngo sounds like a remedy even when he’s bringing mischief.
Ngo is also skilled at bringing a necessary dose of nonsense to the production, but in this regard he is perhaps upstaged by several of his cast members. Sir Toby (Moises Castro) and Sir Andrew (Skye Edwards) join together to create a forever-enjoyable pair of blubbering buffoons. Toby and Andrew are drunk for most of the play, which only adds to the fun. What’s better, Castro and Edwards are quite opposite in size. Edwards looms tall and lanky while Castro is half his height. The two have capitalized on this and incorporated it into their physical comedy, making for a much more effective display.
Next in line for “most hilarious” is Malvolia (Sunam Ellis). Watching the uptight Malvolia be ludicrously unwound by the tricksters in the play is beyond amusing, it’s straight-up therapeutic. Ellis is likable yet ridiculous, rigid yet passionate.
Her character, Malvolia, has been transformed from the original version of Malvolio. This holds true for Lozano’s character, Fabianne, as well. The willingness to recast, remodel, and even rewrite the strict male roles of Shakespeare into characters more in line with our present day represents the type of reimagining no production of Shakespeare should be without. This willingness to include other characters, besides the lead Viola, in a gender-bender is yet another commendable aspect of this performance.
There is little to see as faulty. Some cast members may want to improve their projection, and audience members may want to snag a seat in the higher rows of the galleria in order to ensure a broader view of all the action.
“Twelfth Night” shows now until Feb. 8 in the Meany Studio Theater on campus. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. There will be a post-show talk Feb. 5. Student tickets are $10 and UW employee tickets are $13. General admission tickets are $18.
The verdict: Start snapping your fingers already; this production of “Twelfth Night” is jazzy good.
Reach Development and Special Sections Editor Danielle Palmer-Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanyellPF