Civic Theatre succeeds 
with Shakespeare play

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

May 12, 2011

WAUKESHA - It is a brave community theater that chooses a Shakespeare play as its fare. I don’t recall the Waukesha Civic Theatre attempting this task before, at least not in its recent history, but "Twelfth Night" is on the boards as I write, and it is worth your patronage.

Shakespeare’s romantic comedies often are formulaic, employing certain standard dramatic ploys: mistaken identities, a wise clown, physical humor, poetic avowals of undying love and happy endings with all problems resolved. Except for its inclusion of some cruelty, "Twelfth Night" pretty much fits the pattern.

As the play opens, Viola, who has been washed up on shore in Illyria, is grieving over Sebastian, her lost twin brother. Olivia is grieving over her lost father and brother, and Duke Orsino is grieving over his unrequited love for Olivia.

It’s many unhappy people for openers. As a means of supporting herself, Viola disguises herself as a young man, calling herself Cesario, as she applies for a job as courier to Orsino. Olivia has vowed to grieve for seven years, but Orsino is persistent nonetheless, sending love messages via Cesario. Matters soon become more complicated when Olivia falls in love with the messenger, not the message.

Much of the play involves the drunken buffoonery of Olivia’s resident relative, Toby Belch, and his cohort Sir Andrew Aguecheek, another of Olivia’s unsuccessful suitors.

Together with Maria, Olivia’s maid, they devise a scheme to humiliate Malvolio, Olivia’s chief steward, who often chides them for their overindulgence. Maria forges love letters, supposedly from Olivia, telling him how to dress and act to please her.

Malvolio, who is quite self-impressed for starters, is not altogether surprised at her attraction. This leads to mayhem down the line and some of the cruelty I alluded to earlier.

Feste, a wandering clown, who says or sings funny things and expects to be paid for her commentary, is a major player in this story. She is often the sage who points up human folly, which is ever a major component in Shakespeare’s plays.

Sebastian suddenly appears, having been saved from drowning by Antonio, who has taken a great liking for his rescued friend. Sebastian is soon mistaken for Cesario, causing confusion to reach fever pitch. Eventually, all true identities are revealed, and several unions take place. The only two left out in the cold are Antonio and Malvolio.

Several actors are quite comfortable with Shakespeare’s language, which is no small feat. Ruth Arnell as Maria and Mark Neufang as Malvolio stand out above the rest in making The Bard’s words very accessible.

Other very competent performances are delivered by Gene Schuldt as Toby Belch, Michelle Lynn Brien as Feste, Jenny Kosek as Olivia, Spencer Mather as Sir Andrew and Colleen Kartheiser as Viola. Kosek’s comic bits are especially engaging in view of her usual somber disposition, and Schuldt and Mather deliver the physical humor with abandon.

The physical likeness between Olivia and Sebastian (played by Matthew Lovison) was also quite amazing.

Costume designer Aleta Bernard did an outstanding job on all fronts, but director Robb Smith, who also served as the set and sound designer and constructor, deserves the most credit.

As an aid to audiences who haven’t read or encountered Shakespeare for decades, perhaps a few more program notes would have been helpful.