Katee Drysdale (left) and Vivian Knee. Photo by James Wirth.

By ROBERT DIGITALE

The junior college boys had their turn. Now it’s time for the university girls to do Shakespeare their way.

The result is an entertaining twist on the Bard of Avon’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” the theatrical season finale for Sonoma State University Theatre Arts.

Santa Rosa Junior College presented “Twelfth Night” in 2016 with an all-male cast. The production, marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, was a nod to those olden days when men and boys played both the male and female roles in the theater.

Now comes a nearly all female cast to tell the tale of a sister and brother shipwrecked and unsure of each other’s fate.

“Twelfth Night” seems to attract such twists in modern casting partly because of the gender mayhem afoot in the story. The sister, Viola, disguises herself as a man in order to gain a position in the court of a wealthy duke. Soon she, the duke and the woman he pines for are caught up together in a triangle where each one loves another and no two love each other. Viola loves the duke Orsino, who loves the Countess Olivia, who loves Cesario, who is actually Viola in disguise.

As director Paul Draper wrote concerning the playwright’s original male cast, “What might Shakespeare have been encoding in the role of Viola, a woman played by a man dressed as a woman disguised as a man?” Without giving away too much, let it be said that the production will explore what Draper described as “questions of desire and identity.”

With false mustaches and slicked-down hair at the ready, the main actors each get their moments to shine: Olivia (Vivian Knee) wooing Cesario/Viola; Viola (Katee Drysdale) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Karina Pugh) frantically trying to avoid dueling each other; and steward Malvolio (Adrianna Lazar) puffing up when maliciously tricked into believing that the countess loves him.

Bailey McAfee (front) and Vivian Knee. Photo by James Wirth.

A highlight is Bailey McAfee as the clown Feste. The role offers some big comic moments, and she makes the most of them. She also has a knockout voice for the ballads she sings.

Peter Crompton’s set is a treat for the eyes. He has placed the action in a Mediterranean setting of free-standing (or leaning) columned buildings interspersed with two giant statues and an earth-tone checkerboard of pavement.

The play is set in the 1920s.

A tip of the hat to the remaining cast members: Kimberly Colisch, Shelby Snead, Meghan Muller, Régine Danaé, Natasha Potts, Aliya Bacal Peterson, Riley Spindler, Rae Veraflor, Victoria Saitz, and Reilly Milton.

The play continues tonight, Friday March 16, and resumes March 28-31. For tickets, click here.

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