Theater Review: TWELFTH NIGHT (Actors Co-op)

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by Tony Frankel on May 9, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


In Elizabethan England the entertainments that closed the Christmas season (the Twelfth day) completed the festivities with a topsy-turvy role reversal, peasants pretending to be princes, the sexes switching appearances. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Nightwith its disguised lovers and mistaken identities — and Actors Co-op’s color-blind, gender-fluid revival — honor this irreverence. Love, especially in this infatuated advent at the David Schall Theatre, always seems a malleable passion and a movable feast. More than that, this is one of the most lucid and ridiculously funny versions that I remember. Setting it in the South Pacific (it only sorta kinda informs the production, but that’s part of its scrappy charm), director Michael T. Kachingwe is concerned with clarity, character and yes, one more thing: joy. And the full house last weekend in Hollywood were chuckling at even the toughest of the Bard’s language. (Sadly the run ends next Sunday.)

The Cast of Twelfth Night at Actors Co-op
Antwon Mason, Gavin Michael Harris

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 –separated after a shipwreck — the further complication of Viola (Mary Leeholland) disguising herself as the page Cesario. That only intensifies the chaos caused by false sightings of her brother Sebastian (Victor H. Rodriguez), disguised as, well, himself.

Mary Leeholland, Jessica Woehler
William Viriato and Chloe Babbes

Now a lad, “Cesario” mutely falls in love with boss Duke Orsino (a strapping Antwon Mason Jr.), and he with her soul but not her false gender. With perfect symmetry Lady Olivia (Jessica Woehler), who falls for the courting Orsino’s errand boy Cesario, eventually falls for our stranded Sebastian. 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.”

Kevin Shewey, Isaac Jay, William Viriato, and Howard Leder
Britny Horton, Jessica Woehler, and William Viriato

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 (goofily played in all the right ways, the limber William Viriato struts around in yellow stockings doing a Bob Fosse-esque goose step). The supercilious (super silly?) Malvolio makes a perfect target for Olivia’s scurrilous hangers-on — bellicose Sir Toby Belch (Isaac W. Jay), buffoonish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Howard Leder), and the scheming maid Maria (Britny Horton). You really believe that these are three best friends just having the time of their lives. Chloe Babbes gives an electrifyingly likeable turn as the crooner clown Feste, making all of those Shakespearean puns fly. Making people laugh is one thing, but this fool Feste ain’t foolin’ me — she’s in it for the money.

Infectious, buoyant, fresh, fast-paced and so much fun, this 150-minute production actually feels like a vacation. There’s a kind of simplicity I rarely see at the theater. Actors Co-op’s Twelfth Night overflows with all that makes life worthwhile: friends, lovers, music, and empathy.

Isaac Jay, Chloe Babbes, and Howard Leder
Antwon Mason and Mary Leeholland

photos by Zak Shelby-Szyszko

Twelfth Night
Actors Co-op, The David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St in Hollywood
on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2:30
ends on May 12, 2024
for tickets ($25-$35), call 323.462.8460 or visit Actors Co-op

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