Saturday's wet and gloomy weather didn't provide a great platform for outdoor theater, but Theatre Pro Rata's production of Twelfth Night in Loring Park was an engaging and joyful production that would have warmed any hearts and souls.
The story focuses on the plight of shipwrecked twins Sebastian and Viola (who is disguised as a boy, Cesario, for most of the play) and a love triangle, complete with cross-dressing and mistaken identity. That scenario occasionally takes second position to the comedic machinations of nearby lady Olivia's household, where a rowdy bunch attempt to get their revenge on their uppity steward, Malvolio.
Without any set and only a few props, it is up to the actors — and the work of costume designer Mardi Johnson — to make the story clear and engaging.
Let's talk about Johnson's work first. The play is designed to have a middle 1950s, southern Europe vibe. The costumes look gorgeous, loaded with vibrant colors that evoke a warm, relaxing time by the sea. (Johnson also provides matching coats for MaryLynn Mennicke and Alexander Stene, who play the twins, which helps to keep the action clear.)
This end-of-the-Christmas-season frolic stays light throughout. After a shipwreck, Sebastian and Viola take separate paths to the city of Illyria. There, Viola (as Cesario) ends up in the employ of the Duke, who is seeking to woo the beautiful Olivia (Amber Bjork). Olivia, of course, begins to fall for the disguised courtier.
We spend plenty of time with Olivia's household, including her uncle Sir Toby Belch, gentlewoman Maria, and guest Sir Andrew, who hatch their plot against the steward.
This comes to a head in the classic moment when Malvolio shows up in a pair of yellow stockings that are "cross gartered." Actor David Beukema dresses in a pair of short shorts to fully display his bright-yellow legs. (He also showcases a nice falsetto during the opening doo-wop number.)
The scene is a delight, as are the moments with our drunken conspirators, led by Charles Numrich as the aptly named Belch. He gets able assistance from Katherine Kupiecki as Maria and Andy Chambers as Sir Andrew to build the comic center. Adding to this is Victoria Pyan as the clown Feste. She not only brings out the humor of the character, but also provides the vital musical moments (written by Petyon McCandless).
These moments are so strong that those not tied into their plots feel lesser by comparison. The scenes between Mennicke and Bjork are definitely an exception, as their "courting" builds on sexual confusion into something quite engaging.
Bjork is strong throughout, giving her character a weariness about being constantly courted that never interrupts the fun. It's easy to see why she would fall for the straightforward Cesario when faced with the likes of Sir Andrew or even the Duke Orsino (Derek Meyer).
Director Carin Bartlie helms a fast-paced production that makes the best of the outdoor setting and the talents of the actors.