Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park concludes its silver-anniversary season with "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," the first play ever staged by the company. This likable comedy is a safe choice for a startup theater company and is the nostalgic option for a company in its prime.
"Twelfth Night" is the quintessential Shakespearean comedy with its cross-dressing heroine; a love triangle involving Orsino, who loves Olivia who loves Cesario (who is Viola in disguise) who loves Orsino; and two drunken, blundering knights, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who manage in spite of themselves to give the vain steward Malvolio his comeuppance.
OSP's 25th season has been schizophrenically uneven. A nice staging of George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance" and a notably fine production of "Hamlet" have been flanked by a dreary "As You Like It" and now this lugubrious "Twelfth Night," which feels every minute of its almost three-hour running time.
Director Kathryn McGill opens the production with a dumb display of the funeral for Olivia's brother. Indeed, Olivia rebuffs Orsino by pledging to mourn her deceased brother for seven years, but she soon throws off her mourning weeds after meeting Cesario (Viola in disguise). When Orsino finally speaks what may be Shakespeare's most famous opening line ("If music be the food of love, play on"), McGill has the actor "? Andi Dema, a fine performer who has had an excellent season with OSP "? deliver the speech as if it were a funeral oration.
That pretty much sets the tone for the first act. The production is funnier in the second act, but even then the humor is strained. Boisterous foolishness too often substitutes for comedic acting. The cast exhibits plenty of energy, but much of the effort results in the production spinning its wheels, creating much heat, but little light.
In the second act, Fabian, Olivia's servant, says regarding the successful plot to humiliate Malvolio: "If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction." One could say much the same thing about this production.
Jon Haque as Sir Toby and Doug Brown as Sir Andrew enliven the proceedings to a high degree. Of course, Haque and Brown could create a stir by just coming on stage and reading from the phone book. Although he's too young to be playing Orsino, Dema is consistently effective, as is Maggie Rader, who plays Viola. The highly dependable Hal Kohlman gives his usual fine performance as Malvolio.
It will be interesting to see what the deciders at OSP have planned for the company's next 25 years. The move two seasons ago to the Myriad Gardens Water Stage was one of the best things to happen to the company.
This reviewed performance of "Twelfth Night," which was only the second night of the show's run, was played before a packed house. So, will OSP take the quality of its productions up a notch or two?
Let's hope so. Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is brimming with potential.
Twelfth Night stages at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 5 by Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park at Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 100 Myriad Gardens. Tickets are $10, $8 seniors/students.