When you go to see Twelfth Night at the Lincoln Park Conservatory (and you definitely should) be sure to get there early. By 7:15pm, a group of musician/actors will be performing original music and some classics on string instruments (no Christmas carols). They are a perfect appetizer for this deliciously charming and funny production by Midsommer Flight, a company dedicated to bringing Shakespeare to the community. In the summer, that means free productions in the parks. This winter, you can see their fifth annual Twelfth Night surrounded by flowers, greenery, sparkling lights and a woolly mammoth in the beautiful Show House room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Dylan S. Roberts directs.
William Shakespeare probably wrote this comedy of mistaken identity and gender switching as an entertainment for the end of the holiday season in 1601-02. January 6, the 12th night after Christmas Day, is celebrated in many countries (as in the “Three Kings Day” celebration in Hispanic culture). An English tradition for that day was role reversal, when commoners become royalty, and Shakespeare’s script plays upon that idea. You’ll recognize some of the elements from other Shax works like Comedy of Errors.
The play begins with a shipwreck on the coast of Illyria in which twins Viola and Sebastian are separated. Viola (Jackie Seijo) assumes Sebastian (Chad Bay) is drowned. (The twins could hardly be mistaken as identical, being not only female/male but also short/tall.) The ship’s captain helps Viola make a fresh start by dressing her as a young man, Cesario, who then seeks a post with Count Orsino (Michael Morrow). The count is love with the lady Olivia (Shaina Toledo), who has sworn to mourn the deaths of her father and brother for seven years and thus does not make merry or accept proposals. The count sends Cesario, who has now fallen in love with the count, to plead his case with Olivia and of course, Olivia has to confuse matters by falling in love with Cesario.
If you remember Twelfth Night at all, you remember the funny subplot with Olivia’s steward Malvolio (Erika B. Caldwell) in which all of Olivia’s household conspire to make Malvolio think Olivia is in love with him. Remember the yellow stockings, cross-gartered, yada, yada? The plot involves Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Zach Tabor), his compatriot Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jason Goff), her servants Maria (Stephanie Mattos) and Fabian (Laura Brennan) and Olivia’s fool, Feste (the uber-talented Bailey Savage). And eventually Sebastian appears, seeking his sister. The loose ends are sorted out in a most happy manner.
Roberts directs his talented cast fluidly and they breeze through this abbreviated version of the original script in about 100 minutes. Seijo is excellent as Viola as are Toledo as Olivia and Mattos as Maria. Tabor, Goff and Caldwell add to the silliness as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Malvolio. Bailey Savage as Feste and singer/musician has a terrific comic presence and outstanding vocal style.
Roberts stages the play with seating on both sides of the garden path, which serves as an alley or traverse stage. Characters come and go from both ends of the path and so do the musicians, who play interludes of original music. No need for furniture—just two rectangular boxes that are moved around and set horizontally or vertically as needed to serve as seats or platform. Costumes in 20th century style are by Meagan Beattie. The one negative about the production is the bright lighting from the overhead fixtures. Apparently there’s no opportunity for stage lighting, so the bright lighting is unvarying.
Jordan Golding is music director and creates a fine mostly string band of musicians who play folk-style and medieval songs and madrigals by Elizabeth Rentfro, Alex Mauney and Golding. The musicians, who are all singers and actors as well, are JJ Smith on lead guitar, Brandon Nelson on guitar and cajon, Olivia Lindsay on fiddle, Laura Brennan on trumpet, and Bailey Savage on mandolin. During the walk-in music, I knew I was in the right place when the band performed my favorite holiday song, “Fairytale of New York.” It’s a song by the Irish band, the Pogues, which begins “It was Christmas Eve babe / In the drunk tank ….” And the uncensored version only gets better from there. (See video below. The song has its own Wikipedia page.)
Twelfth Night by Midsommer Flight continues at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton, through December 22. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and reservations are recommended because of limited seating. Travel alert: Don’t try to drive there and allow extra time if you are arriving after dark. The ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo draw heavy, slow traffic. Take CTA (buses 151 on Stockton and 22 and 36 on Clark Street), a taxi or ride-share.