By ROBERT DIGITALE
The cast is captivating. The set and costumes are eye-catching. But there’s something different about Santa Rosa Junior College’s new production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
After all, it’s not every day you watch a guy portray a woman who’s pretending to be a man.
It’s an all-male cast in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Back in the day, men and boys reportedly always played the female roles. But most of us haven’t seen Shakespeare done this way, and SRJC’s manly actors used the novelty to their advantage while staging an amusing and occasionally wacky comedy of mistaken identity and mixed-up affections.
In Friday’s opening, those in the dresses gave a feminine-like swivel of a chin or their version of a high-pitched damsel in distress, and the crowd loved it. The boys can be funny.
The production is an effective blend of story and spectacle, of flowery wit and bawdy, slapstick humor as a shipwrecked young woman finds herself caught up in a different sort of love triangle. The woman, Viola, pretends to be a man and obtains employment with a duke. She quickly falls in love with him. But the Duke is infatuated with a countess, and the countess soon yearns for the love of the disguised Viola.
When Viola’s twin brother Sebastian enters the picture, the characters can’t tell one sibling from the other. Shakespeare seems to relish these moments where everyone becomes baffled but the audience.
The entire company rose to the occasion in scene after scene, as the major characters strive for love and the minor ones engage in all sorts of mischief. Especially memorable was Kot Takahashi as the Countess Olivia, one minute gliding along effortlessly in full black gown and the next crashing to the floor in near hysterics.
Also engaging was Matt Heredia as Viola. The audience howled as he played the disguised woman frightfully dueling the equally squeamish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (well played by Erin Galloway.)
And Noah Sternill provided wit, a good comedic touch and enchanting music as the fool Feste.
The Elizabethan costumes look lavish, and scenic designer Peter Crompton has given the production a handsome set of tall beams, paneled oak and chandeliers. A special, added treat was the Stratford Consort, five musicians playing period instruments, including the lute and sackbut.
Bravo to the remaining cast members, Evan Held, Landon Scott, Zaki Shaheen, Jose del Toro, Richard La Rosa, Daniel Banales, David McCullough, Stephen Cannon, Cooper Bennett, Adriano Brown, Mateo Strawbridge, Victor Santoyo and Poliento Ico.
The production is directed by Leslie McCauley.
Go early and you may get to hear the musicians play and see some actors on stage as they complete their dressing and transform into their characters.
The play continues through May 8 with evening and matinee performances, including one at 3 p.m. May 1 for the college’s annual Day Under the Oaks. For tickets, click here.