By Leigh Austin
Walking into the Lincoln Park Conservatory for Midsommer Flight’s production of Twelfth Night, the vibrant plants and sparkling twinkle lights bespoke a magical experience, a wonderful reprieve from the continuously colder Chicago weather and the perfect atmosphere for a Christmas show. Unfortunately, the environment was the only thing spectacular or even noteworthy about this production. The half-baked efforts of Midsommer Flight’s remount proved to be the kind of Shakespeare show that gives the bard a bad name as audiences unfamiliar with his brilliance walk away feeling confused and worn out from trying to follow the plot.
For those unfamiliar, the play begins with our heroine Viola (Meredith Ernst) being shipwrecked onto the island of Illyria. Distraught by the supposed loss of her twin brother Sebastian (Jake Jones), Viola does what any grieving sister might do: alters her appearance, transforming herself into the male Cesario, to serve as aid to Orsino (Nick Loumos). She soon finds herself falling for Orsino who, unfortunately, has her rushing back and forth with messages to his unrequited love Olivia (Kanomé Jones). Shakespearean antics ensue as Olivia’s forms a romantic attachment to “Cesario,” and Olivia’s household plots to play a practical joke on Olivia’s stern steward Malvolio (Martel Manning).
The play is commonly known as one of Shakespeare’s most popular and lively comedies, but Midsommer Flight’s interpretation managed to make the script feel much longer than its reduced 100 minute running time, mostly because there seemed to be no clear direction or decisions. The confused costuming--a mix of gypsy-esque attire, modern day suit jackets and sunglasses, and formal dresses--made it difficult, from the very beginning, to determine what aesthetic the show was going for. Original music composed by Elizabeth Rentfro and Alex Mauney, while truly beautiful, just didn’t fit with the hazy production choices; it took audiences out of and away from the story rather than situating them more in it. And the direction was seemingly focused more on creating slapstick antics rather than illuminating meaningful connections between characters or simply playing up the comedic elements already embedded within the text. When most of the laughs come from characters falling over each other rather than from the script itself, it feels as if Shakespeare’s words were undervalued.
The cast’s energy and enthusiasm, specifically Meredith Ernst’s and Kanomé Jones’ takes on the play’s leading women and Chris Smith’s portrayal of the drunken and absurd Sir Toby Belch, at least induced a bit of Christmas cheer into the production. But it was ultimately hard to find praise for a show that, even in its remount, just felt muddled.
Twelfth Night continues at the Lincoln Park Conservatory through December 18th. More information here.