Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
It was a chilly, overcast evening Friday (not unlike typical English weather), but the pavilion was shining brightly as the Kearsley Park Players hosted a terrific opening production of William Shakespeare’s hilarious comedy, Twelfth Night. This story of mix-ups, misadventures, and minor mayhem entertained the large audience who, for the most part, came prepared with lap blankets and warm sweaters.
A number of outstanding performances buoyed this production beginning with Ella J. Thorp’s rendition of Viola/Cesario, a shipwrecked twin cast adrift on a foreign shore. In order to survive and find employment in this strange land, she masquerades as a man to secure a position in the court of Duke Orsino (Jason Garza).
Immediately, even though she herself is drawn to the Duke, she is sent to the garden of the grief-stricken Countess Olivia (Mary Paige Rieffel) to profess Orsino’s love for her. Instead, assuming Viola to be a young man, Olivia falls blindly in love with this messenger. Rieffel brings precision and sincerity to this role. Whether she is angry, surprised, amused, or aghast, it all plays out perfectly on her face and in her voice.
It seems the much sought-after Olivia has yet another fellow cooling his heels in the wings. Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Justin Wetenhall) also has his eye on the Countess and her considerable wealth. Not inherently brave, (actually hysterically cowardly) what little courage he has is bolstered by Olivia’s wine-soaked uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Michael Kelly), who encourages a union between his niece and Sir Andrew so to provide Toby with a well-heeled drinking buddy. Kelly and Wetenhall, joined by Chad William Baker as Fabian, provided much of the hilarity Friday. But, not all of it.
Guarding Olivia’s garden is the Lady’s steward, the dour-faced Malvolio (George M. Marzonie). Also sweet on his mistress, he soon falls easy prey to a riotous practical joke played on him by Belch, Aguecheek and Olivia’s servant Maria (Shelli McCormick). Marzonie provided more of the hysteria when he appeared dressed, shall we say, down . . . and sporting yellow hose. His posturing and preening as he sought to impress his mistress was a pricelessly comic highlight enhanced by Director Kay Kelly’s costuming which truly set him apart.
In the nick of time, Viola’s brother Sebastian (Shane McNicol) arrives on the scene saved by a pirate sea captain, Antonio (Ian Thomas) who is out of favor at Orsino’s court and must quickly hide. Left on his own, Sebastian finds himself in Olivia’s garden and then, mistaken for his twin, quickly finds himself married to the lady.
With both twins back on dry land, the confusion at last begins to unravel as lovers are paired and general celebration ensues.
However, one character still deserves major recognition – Feste, the jester is incredible as played by Issac Wood. In and out of almost every scene, Wood sings, dances, jokes, quips, jingles (the costume is amazing), poses and begs for coins while offering wisdom at every turn.
Finally, at the end of Friday’s performance, one seasoned audience member was overheard to comment, “They just get better and better!”
Shakespeare in the Park is one of those enduring jewels in Flint’s cultural crown. May it continue to shine as brightly as it did Friday evening.
Twelfth Night continues, free of charge, in Kearsley Park June 13 at 8 pm and June 14 at 2 pm, June 18 at For-Mar Nature Preserve at 7 pm, June 19 at Linden County Park, Clover Beach at 7 pm, June 20 at Flushing County Park at 7 pm, and June 21 at Max Brandon Park at 3 pm. For more on this summer’s schedule of shows visit online at www.kearsleyparkplayers.com