Illinois Theatre once again tackles Shakespeare in a stunning and outright hilarious performance of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.  This show balances the emotional scales of this play that dips from the characters’ feelings of grief and sorrow to their feelings of laughter and mischief.  The set was well constructed and beautifully detailed, filled with color and foliage and a background of the blue sky.  It gave a feeling of whimsy and wonderment, similar to the vibe one would get in New Orleans. Taking my seat, I was a bit intimidated to see a Shakespeare show; the language can be hard to follow, and nothing is worse than feeling as though one doesn’t know what is happening onstage. However, that fear vanished as soon as Orsino, played by Christian Wilson, began speaking. The passion and longing in his voice conveyed whatever words I did not understand, and he spoke in such a dream-like state that one could only tell he was utterly infatuated with Olivia, played by Alexandra Smith.

I truly must commend the entire cast of Twelfth Night for the sheer amount of work they had to put into the text of this production. None of the cast seemed the slightest bit intimidated by the stanzas of Shakespeare, and they continually used the entirety of their vocal range. Dipping up into their higher registers and falling low into their natural resonance, they used the text to tell the audience their story and contributed to the sheer wonder and mystery that is the island of Illyria.

Speaking of this, the devious duo of Sir Toby Belch, played by Raffeal Sears, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Philip-Andrew Monnett, was absolutely hysterical. Raffael was sidesplittingly funny, playing the not-so-sober Sir Toby, using vulgarity and hilarity to his advantage. His voice boomed through the theater, and his impulses to be carefree and joyous (with the help of some hooch) burst through all of his actions. Philip was the ideal scene partner with him. They constantly played off of each other’s energy, and Philip was steadfastly present onstage, listening with a keen ear and letting his personality shine through the given circumstances of Sir Andrew. This drunken duo will have you in stitches at their ridiculous antics.

Feste, played by Maya Prentiss, is the “fool” in this production and joins this duo, but she is a force of "foolishness" to be reckoned with. She was not afraid to try anything that would get her what she wanted, and her singing in the show made the entire audience stay silent to listen to her melodious voice. Finally, Maria, played by Jess Kadish, was the icing on top of this mischievous quartet. Cunning, witty, and manipulative, Jess used her natural charm and humor that captured the audience’s attention and held it for the entirety of the show, even as she plays an nasty trick on Malvolio, played by Robert Gerald Anderson. Keep an eye out for his monologue as the trick plays out and he believes Olivia is secretly in love with him; his ability to take his time with the piece and the true, almost child-like belief that Olivia is in love with him will keep you giggling and tug at your heart strings.

Finally, one of my favorite moments of the show was when Viola—played by Ellen Magee—disguises herself as a man and accidentally seduces Olivia. Seeing the look of Olivia’s face turn from a rigid woman who cannot be unfazed to a woman beaming and blushing as she listens to Viola’s beautifully spoken speech is just too funny to miss. This, followed by Viola’s realization that Olivia may love her takes the cake.

Wonderfully comedic and attention grabbing, Illinois Theatre once again lives up to its high reputation of quality productions and incredible acting. It grabs your attention and hangs onto it until the curtain closes. Be prepared for love triangles, naughty pranks, duels, and much more in this production of Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

__________________________________________________________________________
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will, directed by Matthew Arbour, will be presented in the Colwell Playhouse at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts March 8 to 10 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11th at 3 p.m. There will be a talkback following the performance on March 8th. For more information, click here.

Photos by Darrell Hoemann.