Uneven ‘Twelfth night’ provides moments of merriment at summerstage

Katie Lynne Krueger as Viola/Cesario appears I n a scene with Mary Jensik as Olivia in SummerStage’s “Twelfth Night.”

Katie Lynne Krueger as Viola/Cesario appears I n a scene with Mary Jensik as Olivia in SummerStage’s “Twelfth Night.”


 By Steve Rank

Published June 18, 2019 

A cross-dressing survivor involved in an unusual love triangle.

This could be an arc on an HBO comedy. Instead, what we have is the debut of “Twelfth Night,” directed by Simon Jon Provan, which kicks off the 2019 season: Deceit and Discoveries, at SummerStage of Delafield.

We are transported to the island of Illyria, where a terrible tempest has stranded Viola (an energetic Katie Lynne Krueger), separating her from her identical twin brother Sebastian (Brigid O’Brien) who Viola believes is lost at sea.

Under the guise of a pageboy Cessario, Viola dresses herself as a boy to serve the narcissistic Duke Orsino (Robert Torres), who is in love with a mourning and proud Olivia (a cartoonish Mary Jensik). In serving Orsino, Viola falls in love with him, creating chaos and hilarity when Olivia falls head over heels in love with Viola as Cesario, who was sent by Orsino to woo Olivia for marriage.

If things couldn’t get more complicated, enter Olivia’s kinsman Sir Toby Belch (a bombastic John Reilly), the wealthy and dimwitted Sir Andrew Aguecheek (executed hilariously by Jim Mallmann) and Olivia’s gentlewoman Maria (a delightfully bawdy Caitlyn Nettesheim).

With Sir Andrew Aguecheek footing the bill for the trio’s shenanigans, and with the help of Olivia’s fool Feste (a dry-witted Maura Atwood), the trio and Feste take delight in hoodwinking and tricking Olivia’s puritanical steward Malvolio (a prim and proper William Molitor) into believing that Oliva is in love with him, resulting in Malvolio donning ridiculous yellow stockings and thus, enduring abuse from Olivia and her kin. And to add yet another level of chaos, Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, is alive and in Illyria.

Along with his faithful friend Antonio (a strong Danny Slattery), the pair set out to find answers, only for Sebastian to cross paths with Olivia, who she believes to be Cessario, aka Viola. Sebastian takes to Olivia’s advances, which only complicates things for Viola.

In Provan’s director’s notes, he states that he has for some time wanted to stage Shakespeare’s comedy in a Chicago-like 1920s era. With the exception of the costumes, comprised of flapper dresses and pinstriped suits (costumed by Claire Tidwell) there is virtually no evidence that we are in the 1920s or in a metropolis like Chicago. The set (designed by Christopher Kurtz) is comprised of two stone like buildings that look more like the outer walls of a Scottish castle than a bustling city.

Atwood, also serving as the composer for the production as well as the fool Feste, has several moments where she both plays and sings. Her compositions are more reminiscent of folk ballads from the 1960s, also taking away from the 1920s. Opportunities to bring us into that setting were unfortunately missed.

At his comedic best, Mallmann shines in his role as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Mallmann’s Aguecheek is more subtle than other portrayals, bringing an honesty and anxiety to please his friends in their foolery. This Aguecheek is always trying to stay relevant, and in the need to belong and keep up,

 Mallmann delivers some of the play’s funniest dialogue. Scenes with Mallmann, Reilly and Nettesheim steal the production. As Malvolio, Molitor delivers an excellent scene, where he is being tricked into wooing the lady Olivia. I especially enjoyed Molitor’s moment of practicing to smile for his love when he woos her.

The tone and pacing in the famous wooing scenes between Viola and Olivia are where this production falls short. Provan states in his director notes that “Twelfth Night” is being presented for audiences to laugh and enjoy merriment, as well as being a gateway for audiences to find Shakespeare more accessible.

 The beauty of the interactions between Viola and Olivia are that both women have just experienced significant loss. The comedy comes when Olivia beyond a doubt is seduced by Viola’s authentic and impassioned poetry. This requires the pace to lengthen and shorten to allow Viola the opportunity to deliver the “Make me a willow cabin at your gate” speech with the guts to fully allow Olivia to forget that she’s in mourning and completely give herself over to a strange pageboy.

In this production, the dialogue between Krueger and Jensik felt stepped on and rushed, losing the critical meaning in exchange for bits of physical comedy and unconstrained energy. In contrast, the scenes between Sebastian and Antonio were stronger because of the authentic feelings of love and empathy. Slattery, in particular, conveyed his love and loyalty for O’Brien’s Sebastian with every intention in the text not missed by this reviewer.

While there were brilliant moments of fun and hilarity in Provan’s production, a lot of the most beautiful and famous text became unintentionally lost in an effort of accessibility.

If you go

Who: SummerStage

What: “Twelfth Night”

When: Through June 29

Where:  Lapham Peak State Park, W329 N846 County Highway C, Delafield

Tickets/Info: (262) 337-1560; summerstageofdelafield.org