A Review of The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s ‘Twelfth Night’

Ah, the romantic comedy. The genre that provided the bread and butter for the likes of Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, and Molly Ringwald (I’m dating myself on that last one) and the genre that was your best friend on dateless Saturday nights when you had no one to smile at awkwardly across the dinner table. But long before Molly Ringwald blew out her 16 candles and Meg Ryan orgasmed in a restaurant when Harry met Sally, William Shakespeare wrote the equation that pioneered this popular formula for entertainment. And centuries later, the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre is trotting it out again just for you.

This time around, they’re doing Twelfth Night. And they’re doing it pretty darn well! The plot, featuring a wacky ensemble cast, is classic Bard Viola loves Orsino, who thinks he loves Olivia. Olivia thinks she loves Cesario who is really Viola, dressed as a man. Malvolio thinks he is a gentleman, but he is not. The foolish and foppish Sir Andrew thinks he is a fine match for the Lady Olivia, but he is far from it…”

In this particular production, Artistic/Executive Director Carmen Khan chose to set the story in an Illyria styled around an early 20th Century with a sparse, slightly nautical theme. The crisp, linen suits of the gentlemen and two-tone shoes of the gentlemen were right out of the Jazz Age. And you can easily envision these characters rubbing elbows with the likes of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.

Twelfth Night was never one of my favorites among comic Shakespeare, but I was absolutely engaged in this production. The opening sequence was colorful and imaginative, and it set the bar of expectations very high. The following scenes stumbled a little, but this show easily caught its footing in the first 15 minutes. The first act was extremely entertaining and didn’t miss a single beat. But the careful groundwork was laid, the second act is where the actors REALLY get to deliver and showcase their comedic chops.

Most impressive in the cast was Victoria Rose Bonito. The girl seems to just naturally know how to be funny. She played her dual roles of Cesario/Viola remarkably well. Caroline Crocker has an exceptionally expressive face that she used to her advantage in every single scene. Rob Kahn (Malvolio) did a brilliant job of being the butt of everyone’s jokes (and I dare say that his legs looked ever-graceful in yellow stockings with crossed garters). Eric Van Wie was slightly overbearing whenever he played the drunken Sir Toby. But when Sir Toby was all sobered up, he had a much better handle on the character.

Nonetheless, the show is tremendously entertaining. Anyone Shakespeare lover who is looking for an imaginative take on an often overlooked gem will appreciate this one. Likewise, any theatre-goer who appreciates graceful storytelling will be entertained. And the production even ends in song! Even without a date, that’s a pretty good Saturday night.

Twelfth Night will run at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre until May 20. Tickets run $10-25 and can be purchased online or at the box office. The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre is located at 2111 Sansom Street. Phone (215) 496-8001.