Cedar City • In the opening moments of Utah Shakespeare Festival’s lyrical production of “Twelfth Night,” Orsino muses, “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it.”
Music is at the heart of this production, which begins with Olivia singing a plaintive lament about the sea and ends with Feste, one of Shakespeare’s wise fools, summing things up with the bard’s best-known song, “When That I Was a Little Tiny Boy.”
In between, the multitalented Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Feste contributes several other songs, proving that he can sing and be philosophical as well as funny. Paul James Prendergast has composed some lovely melodies for the songs.
Excess is another theme that runs through the play. Orsino is obsessed with loving Olivia, who continually rejects him, and Olivia has devoted herself to grieving for her dead brother. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew live to drink, devise pranks and behave outrageously, and Malvolio is a self-righteous, egotistical fool who deludes himself into thinking Olivia is in love with him.
The play’s characters seem to be lovesick, mad — or mad because they are lovesick. Viola/Cesario, who knows who she is even when she isn’t herself, is the only one who has a firm grip on reality and returns everyone to normality.
Like many Shakespearean comedies, “Twelfth Night” has serious undertones — Viola and Sebastian think each other dead, and although Malvolio is foolish, his punishment is cruel and excessive. This production has melancholy moments, but the emphasis is on comedy and romance, and David Ivers’ direction strikes a nice balance.
Grant Goodman’s self-important, posturing Orsino is also affable and charming. Melinda Pfundstein makes Olivia’s journey from self-indulgent grief to joyous infatuation with Cesario completely believable. Nell Geisslinger does a masterful job capturing all the facets of Viola’s personality, fusing male camaraderie with female sensitivity, bravado with tenderness.
The comic scenes are hilarious, especially Sir Andrew dueling with Cesario and Malvolio finding the letter and taking its advice. Quinn Mattfeld’s Sir Andrew is a preening fop, talking through his nose and ricocheting around the stage, a perfect foil for Roderick Peeples’ crafty, riotous Sir Toby. Maryann Towne’s Maria deftly vacillates between fun-loving and sensible.
But the show stealer is David Pichette as Malvolio. His prim, Puritanical demeanor dissolves first into fatuous fantasies about marrying Olivia, next into wild abandon when he appears wearing garish galoshes to impress her, and last into spiteful complaints about his treatment: up, down, but always just the right amount over the top. It is a tour-de-force performance.
Ivers has set the production in an undefined time and place, but the sea is everywhere present as the action ebbs and flows. Prendergast’s sound design is full of seabird calls. Hugh Landwehr’s set looks like a ruined castle lying on the bottom of an aquarium. Kevin Copenhaver’s eclectic costumes appear to have been plucked from a thrift store, but they have a rustic, relaxed seaside air. Michael Chybowski’s muted lighting adds a hint of melancholy.
Shakespeare’s Illyria is a land of illusions, and this production captures that otherworldly feel. Its combination of theatricality and no-holds-barred comedy is already making it an audience favorite.
P “Twelfth Night” delightfully blends romance and comedy and spotlights some standout comic performances.
When • Reviewed on July 4; plays in rotating repertory with two other productions Mondays through Saturdays through Aug. 30; Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 5-20; and Tuesdays through Saturdays from Sept. 23 to Oct. 17
Where • Randall Jones Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University, 300 West and Center Street, Cedar City
Tickets • $32 to $73 with discounts for groups, students and seniors. Tickets and information available at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or www.bard.org.
Running time • 2 ½ hours (including an intermission)