ASR Theater ~~ Marin Shakespeare Company’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will”

By George Maguire

Combine designer Nina Ball’s lush sylvan setting bedecked with flowers, curtains, and marbled painted stairs, with sumptuous lighting by Stephanie Anne Johnson for warm evenings bringing us a perfect illustration of joy in a production rounding out Marin Shakespeare Company’s nascent season under the helm of artistic producer JonTracy.

One of the most popular plays in the Shakespeare canon, 12th Night is rife with music and gloriously rich poetry, making it one of the bard’s most popular adaptations for musicals. Broadway productions include Your Own Thing (1968), Music Is (1977), Play On (1997 and All Shook Up (2005). The original’s name derives from the fact that it was usually performed on the 12th night of midwinter holidays.

One of the major challenges of any production of 12th Night is deciding whether it’s a comedy, a romance, a tragedy, or all three. Whatever the director stresses, it must be cohesive and indeed always supported by the text and not layered with extraneous effluvia.

…One of the major challenges of any production of 12th Night is deciding whether it’s a comedy, a romance, a tragedy, or all three…

The MSC production directed by Bridgette Loriaux opens Act 1 and later Act 2 with a voice-over contemporary conversation between a parent and a child talking about what love is—a cute idea which doesn’t fulfill the inspiration of the idea itself. This is followed by a rather clumsy depiction of the squall that sunk the boat separating look-alike brother and sister and beginning the play itself as they find themselves in Illyria.

(L to R) Salim Razawi (Sebastian) and Justin P. Lopez (Antonio) in Marin Shakespeare
Company’s Twelfth Night. Photo by Jay Yamada

Once the play itself begins, we are on more firm footing as rich poetic words are proffered by the cast.

Stevie DeMott’s Viola (in disguise as the lad Cesario) grounds this production in such glorious verbal/physical joy that we are transported. Her scenes with Charisse Loriaux (Olivia) bring us the wonders of sexual attraction and wonderment without, of course, Olivia knowing the object of her affection is her same sex. In fact, this machination of same-sex desire makes 12th Night the perfect play for today’s awakening and yes, political discussion dominating our landscape. There’s a lovely moment when Johnny Moreno’s Orsino looks at Stevie LaMott thinking it’s a boy. His pause of simplicity is actor magic.

Of course, no Shakespeare play is complete without the requisite clowns. Robert Parsons is Sir Toby Belch (with a ready flask in hand) commenting, planning and of course drinking and Steve Price is his cohort Sir Andrew Aguecheek who bounces around the stage at times like a manic overzealous kangaroo.

(Front) Michael Gene Sullivan (Malvolio), (Behind, L to R) Robert Parsons (Sir Toby
Belch), Adrian Deane (Feste), and Steve Price (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) in Marin
Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night. Photo by Jay Yamada

Adrian Deane’s androgynous Feste is always on the periphery with comments, or simply observing and singing composer David Warner’s many songs is. Her “Come Away Death” is a particular highlight. Michael Gene Sullivan’s prim and proper Malvolio is the perfect foil for his downfall in yellow and cross-gartered stockings orchestrated by Sir Toby, Aguecheek and Mariah (Nancy Carlin). The sight of him alone is enough to make the audience laugh, but then a song with sexual physical groveling is added, which unfortunately takes the point way over the top.

There are moments in the production (Olivia’s pas de deux with others) which although lovely, are only confusing in execution, but again the situation and the talents of actors involved are enough.

Lastly, it is crucial to the play that Sebastian and Viola look alike and wear (unknowingly) the same outfits. How else could the others be confused by them? The costuming of the look-alike twins and the physiques of the actors are incongruent and dissimilar, making both confusion and acceptance laughably impossible.

The end of the play is lovely, where lovers are united and brother and sister find one another in the Illyrian mayhem. The uniting of Sebastian (Salim Razawi) and Antonio (Justin P. Lopez), the love of Johnny Moreno’s Orsino with the now woman revealed Viola, and the aloneness of Olivia are deeply moving.

But wait . . . there’s a coda at the end with Olivia and Malvolio at the edge of the stage which almost sets us up for a sequel.

12th Night Part 2? Someone write it!!!


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Production12th Night
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byBridgette Loriaux
Producing CompanyMarin Shakespeare Company
Production DatesThru Sept 3rd
Production AddressForest Meadows Amphitheater (outdoors),
Dominican University of California 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Telephone(415) 499-4485
Tickets$10 – $40. Pay what you will Thursday Aug. 17
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
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