Encore Michigan

Ellipsis Theatre’s ‘Twelfth Night’ ends well indeed

Review March 06, 2017 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–The Ellipsis Theatre certainly is the little theater company that could. Beset with illness ripping through the cast the past two weeks, including one cast member having to drop out days before the opening, this scrappy band of actors have pulled off a very interesting Twelfth Night in the Yellow Barn space in Ann Arbor run by Theatre Nova.

Twelfth Night, for the uninitiated, centers on twins Viola (Mouse Courtois) and Sebastian (Steven Weed), who are separated in a shipwreck. Viola, passing as a boy, falls in love with Duke Orsino (Markham Isler), who actually loves Countess Olivia (Krystle Dellihue). Olivia, in the dark about Viola’s true gender, falls in love with “him.” It is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and most oft performed comedies.

Director Joanna Hastings has her hands full, but the first thing she did correctly is cast with a troupe of extremely capable actors who have been able to form the net when two castmates went down with a virus and then, in the case of one, pneumonia. Isler is assertive and foppishly arrogant as Orsino. He changes coats and picks up a script to read in for Sir Andrew Aguecheek in all his knightly drunkenness. he separates the two roles nicely. Sean Rodriguez Sharpe was drafted two days before the opening to play Sir Toby Belch, the uncle of Olivia, and does so with confidence and striking just the right tone of exasperating drunkenness without it being a johnnie-one-note performance. Even in scenes between Belch and Aguecheek, we don’t mind so much that the actors are on book. They are strong enough to pull it off.

Scott Screws was heard throughout the tiny Theatre Nova space before the performance bellowing “Born in The USA.” It turned out to be a warm-up to an opening song riff on Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” with words changed to reflect the fictional “Illyria.” As Feste, the jester of Olivia’s household, Screws is dead on for the part, looking every bit the Grateful Dead refugee who has lost his motorcycle and is living life on foot, always with a story to tell, and to…well…jest.

This Twelfth Night is set in a modern-day version of New York City. We know this because of the subway sign on the back wall of the set conceived by Daniel C. Walker, as well as the poster of Lady Liberty welcoming the tired and poor to Illyria.

Dellihue rules the roost as Olivia, the wealthy countess. Courtois plays a soulful and androgynous Viola. Andaiye Spencer puts plenty of sweet and sour sauce in her Maria, attendant to Olivia. Breon Canady has fun playing three roles: The Captain, Fabian and the Priest. It is a testament to the creativity of the ensemble that the parts are played so effectively cross gender. Shakespeare would have heartily approved.

Karl Sikkenga as Malvolio, so aptly named, as the oily steward of Olivia’s household, who doth covet his mistress, at times steals the energy of the show with his excellent comedic timing and expressiveness.

All in all, a solid piece of work from this scrappy theater company. ‘Tis a pity that we missed seeing two of the actors and everyone playing as they rehearsed it. But…All’s Well That Ends Well. And it does for this Twelfth Night.

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