The awkward spelling of Classical Actors Ensemble's Twelfe Night gives an indication that something is up with this production, now running in repertoire with John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.
That something is "original pronunciation," where the actors attempt to recreate how the words would have sounded 400 years ago when Shakespeare's plays were first produced.
In the end, this distracts more than it helps the experience, as one of the Bard's most lively comedies becomes a slow-paced, turgid experience with only the occasional spark of life.
Twelfe Night is a crazed adventure full of japes and jokes and, eventually, confused identity. It centers on a pair of twins, Viola and Sebastian, who get separated in a storm at sea, and believe the other to be dead. Both make their way to Illlyria. Viola arrives first, disguises herself as a man, and ends up in the employ of the Duke.
He is wooing Olivia, who really isn't that interested in any of her suitors. This includes the gangly Sir Andrew Aguecheek, favored by her uncle, the wonderfully named Sir Toby Belch.
From here, we get the usual lovesick characters and confusion, especially when Sebastian finally makes his way to town.
Most famously, the play has Malvolio, Olivia's haughty steward, who gets seriously pranked by Belch and crew, leading to an outrageous costume and pair of yellow stockings.
The cast has trouble bringing much fun to the proceedings. It feels as if the effort to not just keep up with the difficult syntax, but to also remember the proper pronunciation (adding a "k" sound to knave; saying brain as "bran," for example) has overwhelmed much of the company. The words come out just fine, but there isn't enough life.
It's a shame, because the large company shows signs that this could be a lot of fun. Between acts, they add in music (another recreation from Shakespeare's time), making their way joyfully through songs by the Beatles, the Smiths, and others. There are also some solid performances, including Nicole Joy Frethem as Olivia and Michael Kelley as the stone-faced Malvolio.
IF YOU GO:
Twelfe Night/The Duchess of Malfi Through November 23 Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis $15-$30 For tickets and more information, visit online.