“Twelfth Night” produced by the Seattle Shakespeare Company

In this most beloved Shakespearean comedy, poor shipwrecked Viola washes ashore. She’s beached in the strange land of Illyria, but her twin brother Sebastian is nowhere to be seen. Alas, he must have drowned.

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Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola.
Photo by John Ulman.

What’s a poor girl to do but disguise herself as a boy and hightail it to Duke Orsino’s palace where certainly the Duke will take her/him on in service? And theDuke needs all the help he can get. He’s in love with the lovely lady Olivia who will have nothing to do with him. What if he hired Viola (now operating under the name of Cesario) and sent “him” off to Olivia as a petitioner for his cause?

Of course it doesn’t work. Olivia falls for Cesario. Cesaro (aka Viola) falls for the Duke, and what follows is a madcap tale of mistaken identity with crazy characters making considerable additions to the mayhem.

Director Jon Kretzu’s design crew has magically transformed the stage. Andrea Bryn Bush’s set and Kent Cubbage’s lighting work together to create a fairy-tale illusion. It’s just umbrellas and streamers hanging from the ceiling, but what an effect they produce!

Sadly, within this enchanted setting, the production disappointed me. Four of Shakespeare’s silliest characters appear in this play. My favorite of all of Shakespeare’s comic characters is Malvolio, Olivia’s pompous steward. His comeuppance, masterminded by Maria the maid along with the fey and awkward Aguecheek, and the conniving Sir Toby Belch can be one of the most comical scenes in all of Shakespeare. Here it isn’t. It’s funny, but not hilarious, as I’ve seen it in other productions. Costuming is key, and Malvolio dressed in golf pants fails to project the appropriate gartered effect that the script calls for. And in other aspects, Malvolio’s victimization is too cruel.

Julie Briskman shines as Maria the maid. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and she lights up the stage whenever she is on it. Another bit of good casting, combined with clever make-up and hair styling, is Allie Pratt as Viola and Christopher Morson as Sebastian, the brother who didn’t drown and who turns up near the end of the play. Their likeness to one another is uncanny, an important factor here, and especially delightful when it all sorts out in the end.

Ah romance! It always begins with illusion and winds up with reality—sometimes for the better; sometimes for the worse.

Through Nov. 16 at the Center Theatre in the Armory in Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or wwwseattleshakespeare.org).

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