The Oxford Shakespeare Festival is coming to a close, but the best production of the season is running three more times this weekend. Filled with intrigue and deception, “Twelfth Night” is a classic comedy, but probably a classic you haven’t seen like this.
Each season, the festival chooses two Shakespearean shows. One is done in typical fashion, Old English and all, while the other is tweaked to be more modern and distinct.
Contemporary Shakespeare is not an easy task. Taking a completed and perfectly constructed story and reworking every detail to make it fit a different setting can work beautifully or fail miserably. If the flow is off and the changes don’t further the story, the entire feel of the production can crumble.
Joe Turner Cantu’s production of “Twelfth Night” is set in the port city of Illyria (which closely resembles New Orleans) in 1915. The romantic feel of the Old South coexisting with Shakespeare’s eloquent verse takes the production to a new plane. The sweet Southern drawl melds oddly well with iambic pentameter, making this show less of a hassle to understand and a beauty to hear.
Taylor Ragan plays Viola, the shipwrecked maiden who has recently lost her twin brother. She disguises herself as a man named Cesario and begins working for Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. However, it’s a bit difficult to look like a man when feminine features like hips, breasts and makeup are clearly visible. Viola is the technical lead of the show, but Ragan’s performance leaves a lot to be desired.
The male supporting cast is a sight to behold and easily the highlight of the production. Thanks to four key characters, comedic relief is never lacking.
Rory Ledbetter, UM assistant voice and speech professor, takes the lovesick Malvolio to an over-the-top man willing to do anything for the woman he loves. His expressive facial features and exaggerated gestures keep the audience laughing from start to finish. Ledbetter’s submersion into the character is obvious onstage. Despite his obviously insane character choices, he never breaks.
Michael Ewing, recent New York transplant, stole the show, hands down, with his performance of Sir Toby Belch, a drunken mess. The slurs and stumbling were spot on, yet his line delivery and the integrity of the character never falters. Ewings’s happy-go-lucky demeanor lifts the emotional atmosphere of the surrounding actors and brought a much-needed energy to many scenes.
Chris Young, graduate student at Ohio University, and Christopher Young, senior theater major at UM, took their smaller roles and transformed them into something memorable. As the roles of Fabian and Feste, respectively, both brought amazing energy and a solid understanding to their character and the show. While still blending into the background, both men made their character visible but did not detract from the focal point of the scene. Overall, Young and Young are the perfect examples of strong supporting characters.
The set glues the entire concept together with the rod iron and balconies native to New Orleans. Full of levels and multiple entrances, the set brings life and depth to the production. The simplicity makes for an easy transition from one room to another without being an empty stage.
With only three more shows left, it would be a tragedy to miss such a well-done comedy. To catch one of the final performances of “Twelfth Night,” visit the UM box office or the festival’s website at shakespeare.olemiss.edu.
from the DM by Amelia Camurati