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Twelfth Night Review

Address: Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Ross, CA 94957
Phone: 415-456-9555


(Above, l. to r.) Michel Benton Harris as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sarah McKereghan as Feste and Steve Price as Sir Toby Belch in Ross Valley Players production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Love and laughter at the Barn

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Robin Jackson

Ross Valley Players tackles Shakespeare for its 89-season opener, and the comic characters steal the show. Twelfth Night is one of the Bard’s most popular romantic comedies, and it’s full of his classic devices—separated twins, mistaken identity, a love triangle—and, in this particular case, broadly drawn characters who behave outrageously.

The story begins with a shipwreck on the shores of Illyria, a region reputed to be part of the Balkan Peninsula. The foundering ship casts twins Viola and Sebastian into the sea and leaves each believing the other has drowned. Viola (left, played by Robyn Grahn) must fend for herself in a foreign land, and so she dresses as a man, takes the name Cesario and finds work as an assistant to Count Orsino, Duke of Illyria. Orsino is in love with Olivia, a local noblewoman; Olivia takes a shine to Cesario; and the plot thickens. The story, which has its share of complications, moves along at a nice pace, with smooth transitions from one scene to the next, thanks to Jennifer LeBlanc’s astute direction.

Robyn Grahn is a delightful Viola/Cesario, who feels the loss of her brother deeply, but adapts to her new position, despite having to plead Orsino’s case to Olivia (right, Melanie Bandera-Hess) while doing her best to fend off Olivia’s advances. Jackson Currier is a determined Orsino, who steadfastly pursues Olivia despite her lack of interest, baffled as to why she wouldn’t want such a catch. Melanie Bandera-Hess plays Olivia, who not only has to cope with an unwanted suitor, but has to deal with an unruly band of miscreants under her own roof, led by her uncle, Sir Toby Belch.

While the main story revolves around the adventures of Vioia/Cesario and Sebastian, the characters in the comic subplot leave an indelible impression. Steve Price puts his considerable talent to use as Sir Toby Belch in an over-the-top portrayal of a bawdy, cunning drunk, who roars, laughs and swills from a bottle as he careens across the stage. His cohorts include the somewhat dim Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Michel Benton Harris); Feste, with Sarah McKereghan in the role—a reversal of roles from Elizabethan times, when men played women—and Maria, Olivia’s chambermaid and Sir Toby’s paramour, played by the versatile Mary Ann Rodgers. Among their shenanigans is a cruel trick they play on Olivia’s devoted but stuffy manservant Malvolio (below, Malcolm D. Rodgers), believing he needs a come-uppance, and anything’s good for a laugh.

The title, Twelfth Night, refers to the twelfth, day of Christmas (January 5), and Shakespeare wrote the play to mark the last day of the season in the early 1600s. Although it’s more than four centuries old, its themes, as well as human nature, are timeless, and despite the Elizabethan English, it lends itself to many adaptations, as do all of Shakespeare’s plays. This production is set in the early 1900s, and Tom O’Brien’s props and set, which includes a greenhouse in the garden, reflect the time period, as does Billie Cox’s selection of music. Michael A Berg’s costume design is also an important element, with Viola and Sebastian wearing identical clothing—despite their difference in shape and stature—and oddities such as yellow gaiters.

Twelfth Night is lighthearted, and everything turns out well in the end, making it a satisfying experience. It’s a fine start to a new season.


(above, l. to r. Steve Price as Sir Toby Belch, Michel Benton Harris as Sir Andrew Aguecheeck and Sonia Gambhir as Fabian)

Twelfth Night runs through Sunday, October 21. For tickets and more information, go to www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Photo (right): Jackson Currier as Orsino

Ross Valley Players 89th Season

Nov. 16-Dec. 16, The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
Jan. 18-Feb. 17, Deathtrap by Ira Levin
Mar. 8-31, These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich
April 12-28, Scott & Zelda by Lance S. Belville —Ross Alternative Works
May 24-June 16, Moll Flanders by Jennifer LeBlanc
July 12-Aug. 11, Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henry