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