Twelfth Night—A Festive Tale at the Theatricum

Viola (Willow Geer) is bereft that the Duke Orsino loves Olivia but that’s not the whole of this romantic romp. Photo by Ian Flanders

What could ever be a more delightful way to open the Theatricum Botanicum’s summer repertory season than with an outstanding production of the Christmas-time revel, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare.

Masterfully directed by Ellen Geer, the festive comedy follows the adventures of the shipwrecked Viola, who disguises herself as the soldier Cesario in Duke Orsino’s court and immediately falls in love with him.

Yet, Duke Orsino (a commanding Max Lawrence) is hopelessly love-sick for Lady Olivia (the beautiful and savvy Christine Breihan) but her affections are not returned because she has instead fallen quite in love with Viola, disguised as Cesario.

Indeed, the path of love has never run smooth and what ensues onstage is hilarious!

As Viola/Cesario, Willow Geer drives the action. Viola fears for her twin brother, Sebastian (well played by Cavin Mohrhardt), who, she believes, has drowned at sea on the coast of Illyria. She finds herself at the center of a major dilemma: how does Viola tell the Duke, now that he thinks she is Cesario, that she loves him?

Adding to the gender-bending confusion, Lady Olivia’s loyal servant, Malvolio, is played as a woman by the brilliant Melora Marshall in a hilarious turn as the self-loving narcissist, who foolishly succumbs to a cruel joke at her expense.

Lady Olivia’s uncle, the drunken Sir Toby Belch, who figures in all of the hijinks and antics, is brilliantly played by Christopher W. Jones who adds a brilliant physicality to the play. Jones is a treasure to behold this year, as he also plays Nick Bottom in the signature production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sir Toby Belch’s raucous accomplices are played by the witty Elizabeth Tobias as Maria; Frank Weidner as the agile fop, Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and Time Winters as the wise Feste the Fool. In fact, the entire ensemble makes it abundantly clear how fun Twelfth Night and Shakespeare can be in expert hands.  

Enhancing the play is original music by Marshall McDaniel, who lent the Bard’s most beloved words a refreshing new sound. 

Lending their experience to the production, the costume design for Twelfth Night is by Amy Mazzaferro; lighting design is by Zach Moore and props are by Leah Haynor. Sydney Russell is the Assistant Director and Elna Kordijan is the production stage manager.

The rustic outdoor amphitheater under the spreading oaks offers five plays in repertory this season with a bonus performance of The Gin Game, opening Saturday, August 17, in the S. Mark Taper Pavilion, featuring Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James.

This world-class theater in our little hometown has been called “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine.

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga. The amphitheaters are terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.


Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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