.Female Gaze: ‘Twelfth Night’ at Marin Shakes

Modern audiences forget that Shakespeare’s plays had to appeal to various classes and cultures. Bawdy, convoluted plots with drunken comedy and misadventures were a good bet for audiences in Elizabethan England. Twelfth Night takes that conceit to the limit.

The Marin Shakespeare Company has a production running at Dominican University’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre in San Rafael through Sept. 3. Directed and choreographed by Bridgette Loriaux, it’s a joyful, endearing adaptation that presents the four-centuries-old play in a way that is both accessible and modern while still true to the story.

A pair of identical(ish) twins thinks the other has died in a shipwreck. The female, Viola (Stevie DeMott), washes up on the shores of Illyria and pretends to be a man. The male, Sebastian (Salim Razawi), is rescued by reformed pirate Antonio (Justin P. Lopez), who swears undying fealty to Sebastian.

In Illyria, Olivia (Charisse Loriaux) has taken a vow of isolation while mourning her brother. Across the way, Count Orsino (Johnny Moreno) has become lovesick with Olivia, harassing her non-stop to marry him. Viola, dressed as the servant Cesario, enters Orsino’s court and falls in love with him. Olivia, of course, immediately falls in love with Cesario/Viola.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s drunk uncle, Toby (Robert Parsons), and his ne’er-do-well friend, Andrew (Steve Price), are spending Andrew’s fortune on alcohol. The steward Malvolio (Michael Gene Sullivan) disapproves of Toby and company, which leads to the two drunks, the housemaid Mariah (Nancy Carlin) and the Fool Feste (Adrian Deane) setting up a practical joke involving yellow stockings, cross-garters and madness.

DeMott’s Viola is spot-on without feeling gimmicky or belittling. The chemistry between her and both Moreno and Loriaux is palpable. Loriaux brilliantly plays Olivia as a strong young woman who knows her mind and embraces her sexuality. Moreno’s Orsino knows his way around a guitar, a sonnet and a yoga mat, and Sullivan’s Malvolio is a surprisingly limber and nuanced character. Also outstanding is Deane’s Feste. Deane plays the fool with sensitivity and depth. Her remarkable talent for song and dance elevates an already excellent performance.

Yes, some elements didn’t quite work. But overall, from the sumptuous costumes (Bethany Deal) to the on-point set (Nina Ball), this production is a comprehensive argument for the female gaze’s ability to take a problematic play with sexist and homophobic undertones and turn it into a celebration of loving who and how one wants.

‘Twelfth Night’’ runs Thurs-Sun through Sept. 3 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University of California, 890 Belle Ave., San Rafael. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 5pm. $15-$40. 415.388.5208. marinshakespeare.org.

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