Chicago Theater Review: TWELFTH NIGHT (Midsommer Flight at the Lincoln Park Conservatory)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 3, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


If only by virtue of its title, you could call Twelfth Night a holiday love comedy: Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas (January 6), is for many in Europe the right time to give gifts, as it notably was for the three Magi at the stable. Moreover, in Elizabethan England the entertainments that closed the Christmas season completed the festivities with a topsy-turvy role reversal, peasants pretending to be princes, the sexes switching appearances.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, with its disguised lovers and mistaken identities — and Midsommer Flight’s color-blind, gender-fluid revival — honor this irreverence. Love, especially in its infatuated advent, always seems a malleable passion and a movable feast. Just as the Bard captured “how quickly bright things” go awry in A Midsummer Night’s DreamTwelfth Night balances the year with its own emotional volatility.

Equally enthralling is the setting for this morphing make-believe. A part of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s “Night Out in the Parks” program, Midsommer Flight’s enchanting setting is the Show Room of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Conservatory. Though the lighting is less than theatrical, the banks of poinsettia, giant dangling ornaments, and LED bulbs on overhanging plants create their own amorous ambiance. The Bard, beautifully as ever, supplies the spells to finish the fantasy.

As if to comfort his audiences with familiar formulae, Shakespeare reverts to the “lost twins” scenario of Comedy of Errors. The Bard adds to the confusion caused by identical siblings the further complication of LaKecia Harris’s Viola disguising herself as the page Cesario. That only intensifies the chaos caused by false sightings of her brother Sebastian (Julian Stroop), disguised only as himself.

Disguised as a lad, “Cesario” must mutely fall in love with Duke Orsino (Ian Michael Minh), and he with her soul but not her false gender. With perfect symmetry Shakespeare lets our stranded Sebastian tumble for the lady Olivia (Kristin Hammargren), Orsino’s original adored one. Shakespeare deftly and eloquently sorts out love’s entanglements: Two ill-assorted suitors are replaced by two separated siblings to enjoy the right “elective affinities.”

To ensure that the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, there’s also a slyly mischievous subplot involving Olivia’s puritanical suitor Malvolio, here a putatively lesbian stalker played by Amy Malcom. Even in a trouser role (including the obligatory yellow crossed garters and fake smile), the pompous, humorless and buzz-killing Malvolio makes a perfect target for Olivia’s scurrilous hangers-on — bellicose Sir Toby Belch (Jeremy Thompson), buffoonish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Sam Cheeseman), the scheming maid Maria (Robin Waisanen), and the crooner clown Feste (Elizabeth Rentfro in another bit of gender bending). Performed by strolling musicians, the original folk-music score, by Rentfro and Alex Mauney, is one of the irresistible treats in this truncated 100-minute, one-act version.

Putting a ready cast of 14 through paces as fresh as youth can make them, Dylan S. Roberts keeps fluid and supple Shakespeare’s self-consciously silly heartbreak. So much midwinter madness, these follies feel even more fanciful surrounded by the palms, ferns and holiday lighting of the Conservatory’s refreshingly humid flora.

This is Midsommer Flight’s third botanical Twelfth Night amid an indoor garden’s welcome greenery. It truly is a literal shelter from the storms and snows of the not so Great Plains. Admission is free but reservations are recommended.

photos by Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography

Twelfth Night
Midsommer Flight
Lincoln Park Conservatory Show Room, 2391 N. Stockton Drive
Thurs-Sun at 7:30
ends on December 17, 2017
to RSVP for FREE tickets, visit Midsommer Flight

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