Making Shakespeare’s plays relate to today’s audiences is a fine goal to strive for. PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “Twelfth Night,” updated to 1959 at a Mediterranean island resort, turns it into a Technicolor romantic comedy, with mismatched lovers and kooky sidekicks fit for a Doris Day or Dean Martin film of the period.
Tim Mackabee’s brightly colored set has poolside loungers, a hanging wicker seat and a drinks cart, backed by a latticed inner court with patio furniture and changing rooms. Porsche McGovern’s sunny lighting varies the set subtly to suggest various resort locations. Anne Kennedy’s vivid period costumes (high fashions for the women; sporty togs for the men), emphasize the production’s jet set realm.
Director Jerry Ruiz gives the actors heightened characteristics, fueling crowd-pleasing humor but often skirting beauties of the language and depths in the characters. Allison Altman’s tomboy-like Viola has wide-eyed reactions to intimate revelations and flirtations from characters that believe her boy’s disguise. Jenny Latimer’s Olivia, usually in somber mourning because of her brother’s death, is a lusty prowler with designs on “Cesario,” Viola’s male alter-ego. Julia Gibson’s Maria, Olivia’s servant, becomes her devil-may-care, wily secretary.
The male contingent boasts three Shakespearean “clowns.” Bradford Cover’s ever-imbibing Sir Toby is a clever schemer who works well with Geoff Culbertson’s eager but dim-witted Sir Andrew as they plot Sir Andrew’s suit with Olivia. Michael Keyloun’s witty Feste is an endearing portrait of a pretend fool who’s the wisest of the lot. His pleasing singing voice enhances the script’s several songs, with folksong-like music supplied by Jack Herrick of the Red Clay Ramblers.
Ray Dooley makes a perfect Malvolio, imperious as Olivia’s steward, self-deluded as her would-be suitor. Myles Bullock has the right stature for cocky Orsino, Schuyler Mastain is appropriately forthright as Viola’s twin, Sebastian, and Tristan Parks gamely renders Antonio, Sebastian’s rescuer, as a casino gangster out of a Rat Pack movie. David Adamson’s efficient captain and priest round out the characters.
The production takes a while to catch fire and some cultural and social elements are left unexplored. Also, not all cast members are fully experienced in giving life to Shakespeare’s dialogue. Still, the production makes for a fun, upbeat night out.
What: “Twelfth Night,” presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company
Where: Paul Green Theatre, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill
When: 7:30 p.m. March 14-18; 2 p.m. March 12 and 19
Tickets: $15-$62 (Mar. 7, all tickets $15)
Info: 919-962-7529 or playmakersrep.org