Watching a Shakespeare play is like looking at a painting that depicts a painting within another painting. The harder you look, the more layers and meanings to the artist's intent you'll find.
Or, you can just step back and say, "That is lovely."
So it is with Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." You can analyze the characters and their reasons for doing what they do. Or, you can just sit back and say, "That was fun!"
Waukesha Civic Theatre has put an exclamation point on the "fun" in its rendition of one of the Bard's most popular comedies.
Like so many Shakespeare plays, "Twelfth Night" relies on mistaken identity, deception, disguises, trickery and double entendres for its humor.
The story starts when twins Viola (Colleen Kartheiser) and Sebastian (Matthew Lovison) are separated in a shipwreck, each presuming the other dead, as they land on the shores of Illyria.
Viola, who disguises herself as a young man, finds employment as an attendant to Orsino (Jim Donaldson), a duke, and takes the name Cesario.
Cesario's first assignment is to visit the court of the beautiful Olivia (Jenny Kosek) and proclaim his/her master's love for her. But instead, Olivia falls for the cross-dressed Cesario. To make matters worse, Cesario is falling for Orsino, who thinks she is a lad.
Bending the love triangles into twists and knots are the devious Maria (Ruth Arnell), Olivia's lady-in-waiting, and the duo of Sir Toby Belch (Gene Schuldt) and Sir Andrew (Spencer Mather) who are later joined by Fabian (Wesley Yoshino).
The quartet conspire to plant love notes and play malicious tricks that further tangle heartstrings.
Shakespeare's fool in this show is Feste, played by Michelle Lynn Brien. Her dress of many-hued squares and matching hat (created by Ann-Elizabeth Shapera), lovely soprano voice and well-delivered wit add bursts of color to her scenes.
Kartheiser as the lad Cesario is great fun to watch as she realizes Olivia has taken to Cesario and turns to the audience to describe the knotty situation ("She loves me sure, I am the man"). She then struggles to keep up her ruse with playful good-ol'-boy jabs at her master, Orsino, and shows of male bravado, while finding herself falling in love with him.
Kosek has shown tremendous versatility and maturity on the WCT stage with her marvelous portrayals as the husband killer in "Crimes of the Heart," dippy hippy in "Alone Together," and her current turn as the maiden Olivia.
Perhaps the most difficult role is that of Malvolio (Mark Neufang), Olivia's servant who finds a love letter he thinks has been written by her. Neufang drips with emotion as he reads the fraudulent words, penned by Maria in Olivia handwriting, then is locked away after he assaults Olivia with his intentions. There is a certain sadness and anger that underlies the bold gestures and wild costumes as he learns of the deception. "You are idle, shallow things. I shall know none of you," he scoffs at all his detractors.
Director Robb Smith has squeezed lots of comedy out of each of his main characters, who articulate Shakespeare's words with relative ease. Through their gestures, timing and proper emphasis they're able to milk a lot of laughs.
Some of the secondary characters, however, have a tendency to drone a bit with their lines.
Each of the main actors puts a distinctive stamp on his or her character, aided by some nice period costuming. From Mather's Sir Andrew (the simple-minded drinking partner of Sir Toby Belch), who prances about the stage like Winnie the Pooh's bouncy tiger friend Tigger, to Arnell's devious wisecracking Maria, the cast proves up to the challenges of Shakespeare.
Using the theater aisles and a nearly prop-less stage, actors have a generous playground on which to gesture and move about. On preview night, the action had no interruption, with seamless scene changes and the focus squarely on the actors and Shakespeare's words.
IF YOU GO
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"
When: Through May 22
Where: 264 W. Main St., downtown Waukesha
Tickets/Info: (262) 547-0708, www.waukeshacivictheatre.org
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