Twelfth Night Review – Chicago's Love Splash

Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) on Navy Pier concludes its 2008/09 subscription season in a flood of screwball comedy with Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare’s tale of disorder, mistaken identity and revelry. Making quite a splash, this is the debut of London’s Bush Theatre Artistic Director Josie Rourke

Viola and Sebastian jump for joy

Collaborating with Rourke, and in the European tradition of designing both the Elizabethan costumes and scenic design for the production, is renowned designer Lucy Osborne who filled CST’s thrust stage with nearly 7,000 gallons of water to create the coast of the dreamlike land of Illyria.

The rascals relax

“We wanted to set the play on a pier—on this pier here in Chicago,” says Osborne. “There’s something about a pier that suggests a voyage into the unknown. People like venturing out, we like to go out into open spaces, and pleasure piers are just fundamentally playful and sort of decadent.”  To go behind the scenes and see how the swimming pool was built, visit,31,1,26.

From where we sat—far enough away to stay clear of splashing water regardless of this  publication’s moniker—the water served almost as a character in the play.  It was both a life force, a romantic influence and a place for a romp. Moreover, it also provided a bridge to today’s language so that it was easy to just enjoy the story. It could truly be considered family fair--it’s that accessible.  

Often regarded as Shakespeare’s “most perfect comedy,” Twelfth Night is set in the make-believe country of Illyria where “nothing that is so, is so.” Sebastian and Viola, twins separated in a shipwreck. wash ashore on the strange land, each thinking the other dead. The tale of mistaken identities and mismatched loves is set into motion when Viola disguises herself as a man to serve as a page in the court of the love-sick Duke Orsino.

Orsino with Viola

She becomes enamored with the Duke who pines for the Countess Olivia, who in turn wants nothing to do with him and instead falls in love with the Duke’s new page, Viola's twin, Sebastian. As the confusion persists, the ever inebriated Sir Toby Belch and his fellow pranksters ( Aguecheek! what a name!  What wig!) humiliate the brooding steward, Malvolio, for trying to curb their merriment.

Malvolio is duped in signature Shakespearean style

Granted, mistaken identity is a weak plot technique, but the general mayhem sweeps all that away.  The only person who didn’t enjoy this play was Malvolio!

Malvolio struts his stuff

What fun it must have been to get into these characters! Each one--from the lofty to the lousy-- made this ensemble a pure delight to watch, care for, worry about, and just plain enjoy.  Who would have thought that Karen Aldridge, fresh from her blood-curdling role as Lady Macbeth, could be such a sympathetic, light-hearted Olivia? Or that Ross Lehman’s rascally Feste could sing, drum and strum his way into our hearts?


Feste at his best

And Larry Yando’s Malvolio, hated for being a Puritan and a prig,  plays his arrogance and vanity to the hilt.  The groundlings would have had a riot at his expense! Read an interview with Yando at,31,1,16

Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier

Twelfth Night runs Sunday, March 29 through Sunday June 7, 2009 in the Courtyard Theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. For further information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

Programs in conjunction with performances of Twelfth Night include:

Pre•Amble: half-hour introductory lectures on Twelfth Night presented by scholars will take place at 2:00 p.m. on select weekend dates (4/25, 4/26, 5/2, 5/3, 5/9, 5/10, 5/16, 5/17, 5/23, 5/24, 5/30, 5/31, 6/6, 6/7). Admission is free and reservations are not required.

Cast Call: an informal discussion with the actors in the Theater’s Pub will be Friday, April 17, 2009 and Friday, May 8, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., prior to the 7:30 p.m. curtain.
Admission is free. No reservations are required.

Post-show discussions follow each Wednesday 1:00 p.m. performance. Admission is free. No reservations are required.

• The audio-described performance for patrons with visual impairments will be held on Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Patrons should reserve a headset when purchasing tickets in advance.

“Access Shakespeare” tickets are $27.
• The duo-interpreted performance for patrons with hearing impairments will be held on Friday, June 5, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Patrons should request the specific seating area when purchasing tickets in advance. “Access Shakespeare” tickets are $35.

Photos: Liz Lauren

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