There’s something especially appealing about watching an interpretation of a William Shakespeare show from a true devotee of the playwright. Over his extensive career, The Director of Professional Training for The Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program, Jesse Perez, has acted/directed/choreographed different Shakespeare tragedies and comedies.
After co-starring in a modernized take on Romeo and Juliet for The Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, he is now directing a modernized take on the romantic comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will for The Old Globe and the USD Shiley Graduate Theatre Program.
Shipwrecked and separated from her brother, Sebastian (Everett Ramon Burris), his twin sister, Viola (Bibi Mama), finds herself at the kingdom of Illyria. Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, and begins to work for the duke, Orsino (Claire Simba). Orsino suffers from an unrequited crush on the wealthy, Olivia (Hallie Peterson), who is mourning the death of her brother.
Things get out of hand once a love triangle originates among the characters. Olivia starts to develop feelings for Viola, while Viola falls for Orsino.
Most productions focus on the love triangle, while also spending time on the various subplots involving the supporting characters. Instead, Perez concentrates more of his production on the other inhabitants of Illyria.
These include the goofy Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mason Conrad), his alcoholic friend, Sir Toby Belch (Chris Cruz), the smart fool, Feste (Summer Broyhill) and Olivia’s head servant, Malvolio (Marco Antonio Vega). An advantage of Perez’s handling of the material is that there are opportunities for broad and outrageous over the top humor.
This choice from Perez comes at the expense of Viola, Olivia and Orsino, since not as much time is spent on their interactions. However, by focusing on the other Illyria residents gives Perez the chance to showcase more of the talented grad students in the theatre program.
Mama and Peterson perform their scenes with confidence and charisma. They both are equally strong with their handling of Shakespeare’s prose.
Conrad and Cruz share silly chemistry as Andrew and Toby, and their sequences together inspire plenty of laughter.
One performer who stands out, both for her clever delivery and musical skills, is Broyhill. She subtly delivers various jokes, and beautifully sings songs with lyrics by Shakespeare, as well as covers of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 You” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
Another artist who shines is Vega as the hapless head servant, Malvolio. He is comical while depicting Malvolio’s infatuation with Olivia, and then is able to convey empathetic sadness in the final part of the narrative.
Robin Sanford Roberts’ set at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, and Elisa Benzoni’s costumes, are all rooted in the 21st century, and make Illyria a place that is very reminiscent of today’s San Diego. Melanie Chen Cole’s audio entertains with music ranging from Ennio Morricone’s score to “For a Few Dollars More” and the “Underground Theme” from the video game, “Super Mario Bros.” Her music perfectly fits with Perez’s unconventional vision.
By devoting the evening to the ensemble and updating the setting, Perez’s interpretation of The Bard’s plot is enjoyably unique. Here’s to Perez continuing to create creative renditions of Shakespeare’s classics in the future.