at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
(by William Shakespeare, directed by Josie Rourke)
CST always excels at bringing Shakespeare's comedies to life, often using musical interludes, smart choreography and clever re-conceptualizations to create a spirit of joviality in the crowd, and Twelfth Night did this brilliantly. Along with having live violinists accompany the opening "If music be the food of love...", many other witty songs were incorporated throughout, most brilliantly delivered by Ross Lehmann as the fool Feste. Looking like a slightly less haggard Mel Brooks, Lehmann steals the show here with one of the funniest performances I've ever seen - at one point, when reading Malvolio's letter of madness near the close - he basically brought the play to halt as the entire cast were clearly trying not to be overcome with giggles. It was a great moment that really emphasized how fun CST has made this whole performance, playing up the elements of festivity, sexuality and ribaldry, but still finding enough nuance to ensure that Malvolio's humiliation rightly transitions from juicy laughs to a slight, wincing distaste at how far he's mocked by these careless revelers.
It would be remiss if I didn't mention the set. Absolutely incredible. Made entirely from wooden slats that covered the sides of a deep and substantial square reflecting pool in the front of the stage, before coming out of the water in raised steps and then curving up around the sides of the back of the stage into a huge heart-shape, framing the entire thing. Not only stunning to look at, but richly enhancing the play's themes of reflectivity and doubling, most obviously when the twins finally see each other for the first time from across opposite corners of the pool, their reflections mingling, before they both jump in to the water together in joy at being reunited. A well earned moment, both poignant and celebratory. But really, the main point of that huge pool of water is that watching people dressed in Elizabethan clothes repeatedly fall and dive into water is funny, and there is unlimited comic joy in seeing heaps water dripping out of doublets and breeches.
Oh, and at the interval, they served everyone cake in honor of Shakey's birthday. Hey nonny nonny nom nom nom
Happy 445th, Billy!