3 out of 4 stars
Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare is a defined as a “problem” play. It falls between comedy and tragedy, as some characters get their happy endings, while others do not. The plot focuses on twins Viola and Sebastian who were separated in a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a man and falls in love with the Duke she serves, who in turn is in love with the Countess Olivia. Upon meeting the disguised Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her thinking she is a man. This messy love triangle is put on by Midsommer Flight this season in the Lincoln Park Conservatory in partnership with Chicago Parks District.
Upon entering the conservatory, lights guide your path as you wander your way to the Show House room filled with beautiful decorations. Christmas trees, giant glass snowflakes and fairy lights are strewn about the space making it a magical wonderland. Serenades of acoustic christmas carols are sung by part of the cast accompanied with guitars, flute, violin and drum boxes. The musical interludes throughout the piece are beautifully done in the acoustically reverberated atrium. Elizabeth Rentfro has an exquisite voice that brought power to her portrayal of the Fool named Feste. Directed by Dylan S. Roberts, the alley or traverse stage allows for an intimate experience between actors and audience members. The blocking of scenes was enjoyable and pacing was well executed. Great physical comedy was incorporated with just enough over exaggeration in body movement and facial expression to allow audiences unfamiliar with Old English to follow the plot. Another admirable trait was the verbal stresses of language while delivering lines. LaKecia Harris, plays Viola, excels in these peaks and valleys of tone, which allows further holistic acting. The secondary comedic plot line regards Malvolio, an uptight servant to the Countess Olivia, tremendously played by Amy Malcom. The casting choices are non-restrictive and I thought was a progressive choice in semantics to focus more on plot than definitive gender pronouns. While Shakespeare is no stranger to the challenging of sexes, it is a nice additive element to the gender swapping storyline.
The sound design was simple and harkened to foley work mimicking thunder and other various audio. The simplified audio allows the focus to lay on the acting that blossomed into this lovely staged production. Shawn Quinlan’s costuming included a muted color palette, but the velvets and patterns gave elegance and sophistication in places where it was needed. A nice balance of fabric and pattern. A particular ingenious detail was the utilization of Countess Olivia and her maid’s lace veils and the extra lace used as Malvolio’s blindfold when imprisoned for madness after being cruelly tricked into thinking Countess Olivia desired them. Fabric is a means to disguise, but the use of the lace seems to hint at a metaphor for being blinded by love, as well as being blinded by aesthetic beauty. The Countess wears a black veil upon first meeting Viola dressed in man’s clothing and Malvolio is tricked by the fool Feste whilst being blindfolded with the lace.
Midsommer Flight is a professional not-for-profit theatre company that strives to provide more accessibility to Shakespeare and his work. The production is completely free and part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Night Out in the Parks” initiative that provides world-class performances in Chicago’s neighborhood parks throughout the year. With donations, Midsommer is able to keep providing Chicago with a unique perspective on Shakespeare’s classic works twice a year.
Reservations for Twelfth Night are recommended and are now being accepted at www.midsommerflight.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!