When Naked Shakes’ new production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night returns to UCSB’s beautiful Commencement Green in October, get there early and fight the impulse to plunk down your lawn chair or spread out your picnic blanket too close to the stage.
This sprawling, effervescent show fills the large open space leading to the lagoon with energy and excitement. Thanks to an imaginative production design, impeccable vocal performances, and the use of handheld microphones, no matter where you are, you will hear Shakespeare’s dialogue crisp and clear. What a more distant vantage point for this show allows is something that could change your experience of theater forever: the realization that the old boxes we have relied on for so long — be they traditional indoor theater spaces or the stacked tiles of a Zoom screen — can explode, leaving the plays they purport to contain miraculously vital and intact.
The young cast mixes experienced BFA students with non-majors, some of whom are appearing in their first play, in a way that’s bold and persuasive. Double casting of the key roles Viola (Lana Spring, first half; Taylor Kirk, second half) and Olivia (Kirsten Høj, first half; Hailey Turner, second half) not only gives more students great opportunities to perform but it also deepens the play’s thematic exploration of doubling and shifting identity. This principle extends even further in the case of Feste, the fool, a role that is portrayed by a chorus of three in this production — Rae Farnum, Andalyn Honselaar, and Caroline Ware. This choice enables director Irwin Appel, who composed the show’s original songs, to bring the iconic sound of voices harmonizing with an acoustic guitar (played by Brandon Statner, who also sings) into the mix.
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Any production of Twelfth Night depends for its success on finding an effective Malvolio, and Catherine Ballantyne delivers a hilarious and thought-provoking version of the pompous steward here. The skills she applies from her dancer’s training lift the performance out of pathos and into a sublime comic spectacle full of hilarious surprises. As Orsino, Duke of Illyria, Angel Villalobos commands the open playing space, his voice always distinct and recognizable, even when he’s horsing around with his pal Cesario. Cyrus Roberts, Harut Simonian, and Megan Brown handle the roles of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Maria with gusto, creating a merry chaos below stairs that overflows its origin and floods the adjacent upper-class society with confusion.
The most striking aspect of this Twelfth Night is how effectively these performers translate Shakespeare’s magic and mystery to a large outdoor setting in full daylight. When Sebastian, Viola, and their crew arrive by inflatable boat, putt-putting across the UCSB lagoon, it’s an unforgettable image that would not be possible under other circumstances. And it’s not a one-off gimmick, as the players run around the green together between entrances and hide behind a large tree while observing the love-madness of Malvolio. Every aspect of the show’s design partakes equally of this glorious accidental freedom. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness Shakespeare like you’ve never seen him before when Twelfth Night returns on Friday, October 1.
Listen to this week’s Audio Review by Charles Donelan below.