This summer Optimist Theatre presents a fun, breezy little outdoor Shakespeare show that is as romantic as it is comic. Optimist’s tenth annual Shakespeare in the Park show makes its way through various outdoor venues over the course of the summer.Twelfth Night (or What SHE Will) is a free 90-ish-minute edit of Shakespeare’s classic that is performed with a satisfyingly quickened pulse without intermission. Under the directing team of Mary Lynn Cogar and Tom Reed, the cast adroitly tumbles through the comedy with sharp costuming and a score that is cleverly constructed by Sound Engineer Tony Roman.
In abbreviated form, the story of love and folly feels like a pleasant, little dream that ends outside before sunset. Brielle Richmond is a powerful Viola/Cesario, sent by Count Orsino (in the form of a deeply charismatic Deshawn Thomas) to court a beautiful woman for him. Richmond has a sympathetically commanding presence in a waistcoat made of neckties. (This probably looks a lot more impressive than it sounds. Mel Benson’s costume design is remarkably appealing on everyone in the cast.)
Kaitlyn Feely renders a few very deep and emotionally gratifying moments as the love struck Olivia. It’s not often that an actor really gets a genuine opportunity to develop a subtle and intricate layers of romantic interest. Feely’s love is dizzyingly fun to watch without being at all amplified. It’s a very cleverly crafted vision of infatuation that radiates gorgeously at the heart of the production. Richmonds’ passion for the poetically beating heart of love in the role of Cesario allows Feely firm footing for a subtle and intricate portrayal of someone falling quite hard into romantic attraction. Honestly it’s one of the most compelling portrayals of this sort of thing that I’ve seen in a long time. Straight-ahead romantic love doesn’t make it to the center of the small stage quite as often as one might expect.
Libby Amato, Ken T. Williams and Siddhartha Rajan are remarkably cohesive as the trio of tricksters looking to make a buffoon of Olivia’s servant Malvolio. Rarely are Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Agucheek as dynamic as they are in Optimist’s production There’s a quick wit about the group as a whole, but each individual has a distinct presence. Williams earthy gravity as Toby pairs well with Rajan’s noble flakiness as Agucheek, Amato’s charmingly self-satisfied scheming as Maria serves as a clever center to the group. Andrew Varela has deft comic poise as the stuffy guy who goes a bit mad at the prospect of love. His got a powerfully stern and gruff presence before the fall...which makes his awkward descent into the madness of love that much more intense than it often appears.
Susie Duecker blooms beautifully on a variety of different levels as the fool known as Feste. It can be really difficult to balance the silly humor of the comedy relief while still possessing the kind of wisdom required of such a role in Shakespeare. The roles are equal parts silly and wise. Often a performance can lean a bit too far in one direction or the other. Duecker navigates a very tight and balance performance and even manages a few musical flourishes here and there.
Optimist Theatre’s Twelfth Night or What SHE Will runs through August 7th at various parks and places all over the greater Milwaukee area. For specific locations, times and more, visit Optimist Theatre online.