Twelfth Night — Image courtesy Mu Performing Arts

Twelfth Night

Mu Performing Arts
Directed by Randy Reyes

There has been no shortage of Shakespeare this spring on the Twin Cities’ stages. Nor, thankfully, has there been a shortage of varied and innovative approaches to performing the Bard’s work. In the wake of Mission Theater Company’s earnest, quirky Titus Andronicus and Much Ado About Nothing and Theatre Unbound’s brash, freewheeling Hamlet, we now have the pleasure of experiencing a stripped-down, stylized take on Twelfth Night (incidentally the source of this blog’s title) courtesy of Mu Performing Arts under artistic director Randy Reyes.

Twelfth Night — Image courtesy Mu Performing Arts Those who prefer their Shakespeare unabridged are not the target audience for this production. There are cuts, and not a few. One character is gone entirely, along with a great deal of exposition and other material. What is left generally falls into two themes. The first is the play’s emotional essence: the love triangle between Orsino (Audrey Park), the duke of Illyria; noblewoman Olivia (Francesca McKenzie), the object of his unrequited affection; and the shipwrecked Viola (Stephanie Bertumen), who, disguised as a man, loves Duke Orsino and is loved by Olivia. At one point, Viola proclaims, “O time! thou must untangle this, not I,” and time does eventually intervene in the deus ex machina form of Viola’s brother Sebastian (Hope Nordquist). But the intricacies of the plot are not the focus of Mu’s production; what we really get the opportunity to dwell on are the feelings of these three characters — feelings that none of them can seem to express directly to those they love. Bertumen is particularly strong in the role of Viola, the most aware but least powerful of the three.

Twelfth Night — Image courtesy Mu Performing ArtsThe other major element of the play that Reyes and his collaborators have retained is its humor. Most of this arises from the amorous overtures of pompous, prissy manservant Malvolio (Eric Sharp) and foolish, cowardly squire Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Alex Galick) toward Olivia, egged on by her uncle Sir Toby Belch (Eric “Pogi” Sumangil), lady’s maid Maria (Su-Yoon Ko), and jester Feste (Reyes). The actors aren’t shy about playing the humor broadly, but because this is consistent with the overall audience-aware approach of the production, it works. Sharp is particularly hilarious as an over-the-top Malvolio, while Sumangil’s portrayal of Sir Toby’s habitual state of drunkenness is always a guilty pleasure to witness. These characters and their subplot aren’t only good for a laugh either; we also get a surprisingly touching take on the flourishing of love between Sir Toby and Maria, forged through shared mischief. Some of the attempts at humor outside of these antics, on the other hand, fall a little flat, namely Reyes’s extended dalliance with a whoopee cushion and Emma Valentine’s lisping “pirate voice” in the role of Antonio.

Twelfth Night — Image courtesy Mu Performing ArtsA couple other things about this production are worth noting. The first is Jason Hansen’s brilliantly engaging score, especially his settings of Feste’s songs, in which Asian-sounding scales and rhythms collide with Western folk singing and playing styles. The second is Theresa Akers’s sparse set, in which the actors are subtly deployed across multiple layers of surfaces arrayed around two shallow depressions in ways that emphasize the emotional separations and confrontations between their characters.

All told, Mu has given us a rendition of Twelfth Night that takes the play, its characters, and their feelings seriously — but not so seriously as to get in the way of the fun. Reyes and his actors have clearly gone to great pains to identify and communicate what is essential about each character and each scene, and the result is a thoughtful, accessible production that is sure to make audience members see the play in a new light. Twelfth Night is at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis through June 14.

Photos by Keri Pickett

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.