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Review: Shakespeare plus the kitchen sink equals Wise Fool’s ‘Twelfth Night’

The show runs through Oct. 30 at Harbor City International School.

DNT review
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It took less than five minutes for the opening night audience at Wise Fool’s production of “Twelfth Night” to know they were going to get their money’s worth.

Mainly because the prologue created by director Chani Ninneman offers Erin Aldridge on violin and Brad Damon on guitar providing the premise of the plot set to the music of a familiar song about the Great Lakes.

Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria and pretends to dress like a man to become servant to Duke Orsino, who has “Cesario” woo Countess Olivia in his stead. Meanwhile, her twin Sebastian is washed ashore elsewhere and avoids showing up in Illyria until Act Two.

Consequently, “Twelfth Night” is a cross-dressing play crossed with a mistaken identity play involving twins. If it is not the first of either, or the first such combination, then Shakespeare has to be content with it being the best.

Mike Pederson and Todd Larson as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are the Hardy and Costello of the production. Pederson makes Belch a comic figure of Falstaffian dimensions with a formidable collection of comic techniques. Larson plays Aguecheek as a sweet simpleton and earned applause for simply skipping.

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When the cast was announced and I saw Jeffrey Madison’s name, I knew immediately he would be Ninneman’s Malvolio. When Malvolio is seduced into making a cosmic fool of himself by means of a letter that Ninneman’s Maria has written imitating Olivia’s handwriting, Madison hysterically milks the scene to such a degree that I would have just had intermission at that point.

There is no other Shakespeare play where the comic relief and their subplot overshadows the main characters more than “Twelfth Night.” Fortunately, Cheryl Skafte as Viola/Cesario makes the most of every scene on stage with her compelling way of verbally and visually punctuating her double-meaning heavy dialogue to remind us she/he is the main character.

The production doubles down on the doubling, most notably with Damon also playing both Sebastian and Feste the fool, seamlessly transitioning back and forth between the two completely different characters.

As Duke Orsino, Joe Meichsner makes us comfortable with his character’s pomposity and his idiotic idea that sending another to woo in your stead is ever a good idea. Christine Winkle Johnson captures your attention every time she gets that twinkle in her eye as Olivia decides to fall in love with the messenger rather than the message.

As Antonio, Rosy Dey is marooned in the Sebastian subplot until the endgame, when she gets to explode after encountering the wrong twin at the worst possible time. Kirsten Hambleton’s double duty is playing straight to both Pederson and Larson as Fabian.

This is a “kitchen sink” production that throws everything it can at the audience to get laughs, from sunglasses to butt slapping and countless double-takes. The choreography is reminiscent of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. In addition to the violin and guitar there is a viola (ironic, huh?), a flute, and kazoos. Then there are the musical references.

“Edelweiss”? Seriously? “Edelweiss”?

There are so many great moments that never appear on the printed page. This is more than everything involving Aldridge, the show’s not-so-secret weapon, and things like the epic non-sword fight between Sir Andrew and Cesario.

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Then there are the various verbal additions, because I am fairly certain Shakespeare never ever wrote the words, “Okay, you’re going to let go with that hand....”

The cast wear contemporary clothing (which in Pederson’s case means his work clothes), keep wearing their glasses, and sit on stage to enjoy the show with the audience.

Ann Gumpper’s scenic design is 95% having painted a gigantic wave on the stage and back wall that changes appearance as the lighting changes. An instrumental version of “Riders on the Storm” plays before the show begins to make sure we get the metaphor.

More importantly, most of the acting actually takes place on the floor in front of the stage, so the audience gets to see the characters up close and personal.

Hey, Bulldogs.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.

If you go

  • What: Wise Fool Theater’s “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare
  • When: Harbor City International School, 332 W. Michigan St.
  • Tickets: Oct. 22 and 27-29 at 7:30; Oct. 23 and 30 at 2 p.m.
  • Info:  $25 in advance, $35 at the door; children under 12 $17; matinees Pay What You Can. ci.ovationtix.com/35754/production/1138411

Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.

Related Topics: THEATERDULUTH
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.
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