Shakespeare in Detroit’s Twelfth Night…and all that jazz
By Angela Colombo
DETROIT, Mich.–“If music be the food of love, play on!” The opening line of Twelfth Night is one we might all enjoy musing upon these days. Shakespeare in Detroit’s adaptation takes you into a world of sharp-tongued, funny one liners while watching characters trick and cajole each other in a jazz era setting. Whimsical and witty, Twelfth Night unites love, confusion, mistaken identities, and meandering relationships.
Replete with clever puns that bring the dialogue into the present day if not quite as urbanized as Broadway’s Hamilton, translator Alison Carey and director by JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell give Twelfth Night a roaring 20s sensibility.
The play is held in an intimate space on the 6th floor of the Detroit Opera House. There is no stage, only a wood floor whose edge is a foot away from the seats that make up the front row. The audience becomes a participant as the actors project their lines inches from our foreheads. People swayed and clapped to the beat as they sat among the actors during the musical numbers. Twelfth Night is well cast and performances shine, making up for the lack of production values in this temporary space.
SID’s Founding Artistic Director, Sam White, started the evening by paying homage to the late Dr. David DiChiera, founder of the Detroit Opera who died in September. She said he was her “mentor and it is because of him that we have this great space that is the Detroit Opera House.” White said she is grateful to DiChiera for renovating the opera house and bringing opera to Detroit when no one believed it could be done.
In the play, a shipwreck separates twins Sebastian and Viola and each think the other has perished. Swept onto the shores of Illyria, Viola, alone in a strange, land disguises herself as a young man, takes the name Cesario and becomes servant to Duke Orsino. Orsino charges Cesario with wooing the lady Olivia but Olivia falls in love with Cesario instead of the Duke, while Viola, disguised as Cesario, falls in love with Orsino.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby and his pal Sir Andrew along with Feste make merry drunkenness until a confrontation between Olivia’s steward, Malvolio and the chronic partiers leads the latter to concoct a revenge plot against Malvolio. Led by Maria, Olivia’s lady in waiting, Malvolio is tricked into looking like a lunatic and locked up.
Meantime, Sebastian has been rescued by sea captain Antonio. Together they arrive in Illyria, where Antonio is not welcome due to bad blood between him and Orsino. When Viola, as Cesario, gets challenged to a duel, Antonio mistakes her for Sebastian and gets arrested when he comes to her aid. At the same time Olivia has mistaken Sebastian for Cesario who she has fallen in love with and they declare their love for each other. The plot continues to tangle until the twins finally find each other and rejoice that the other is still alive.
Vicky Morgan, who plays Maria, in a Great Gatsby era red dress, hit every facetious note, and her micro expressions, sideways glances and rolls of the eyes came with perfect, comedic timing. Morgan had the audience giggling when crouched and crawling on her knees, hiding behind a bush with a surreptitious, pixy-like look on her face as she and her counterparts plotted to trick Malvolio.
Chris Jakob enlivens the character of Antonio and makes us believe in his undying love for Sebastian. Reg Flowers as Orsino has just the right swagger as he swoons over Olivia and professes his love while accusing her of cruelty. Billicia Hines who plays Olivia is Director of Black Theater at Wayne State University. Hines gives Olivia the proper mix of condescension and adulation. Inney Prakash as Feste is convincing and jocular as he styles like Billy Graham on a pulpit when morphing into sub character Reverend Topas. Danielle Peck plays Malvolio, perfectly conveying his dour prudishness and later comical departure from reality.
Twelfth Night is SID’s last production until 2020 while the company focuses on building their new, east riverfront, location. SID will occupy the first floor of a multi-use building that once housed the Stone Soap Company, close to the Renaissance Center. Sam White said, “the location is perfect since 20% of SID’s audience comes from Windsor.” SID’s goal is to qualify for LORT (League of Regional Theaters) and give Detroit a permanent home for Shakespeare.
Twelfth Night continues this weekend. Performances begin each night at 7 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 11 at the Detroit Opera House; 1526 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-961-3500; shakespeareindetroit.com; Tickets are $45.