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Orchard Theater Collective’s production of 'Twelfth Night' is pure joy

Matt Muroya

Matt Muroya

January is typically a Very Serious Time for theater. After several weeks of frothy holiday fare, companies often cater to their most dedicated audiences with rarely seen classics or challenging new works. The Orchard Theater Collective is taking a different approach, keeping the froth flowing to warm these winter weeks.

The subterranean Glanton Theater at Calvary Baptist Church, just off Eat Street, feels cozy and festive for the young company’s production of Twelfth Night. (It’s still seasonally appropriate: The eponymous evening marks Epiphany, the official end of the Christmas season.) Cabaret tables are arranged under strings of lights and decorations; to ensure there’s something to put on those tables, each ticket holder gets snacks and drink tickets.

Lush up your Shakespeare? It might sound like bribery, but happily there’s no need for that: This frolicsome production would be well worth the price of admission even without the party favors. It’s one of those shows where the actors are clearly enjoying themselves so much that the atmosphere becomes contagious. That’s all the more so because the action unfolds all around the audience, with actors running around the room and ducking behind tables.

Part of the fun is the show’s pop-music chestnuts. It’s an adapted version of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” that establishes the divergent fates of twin siblings Viola (Anna Leverett) and Sebastian (Corey DiNardo).

Shipwrecked and believing her brother to be drowned, Viola dresses as a man to take a job with Duke Orsino (Kevin Fanshaw), who’s pining with pointedly unrequited longing for Olivia (Shae Palic). The latter, instead, takes a fancy for Viola’s “Cesario,” while Viola falls for her boss. Meanwhile, supporting characters conspire to fool the pompous Malvolio (Ben Shaw) into thinking Olivia secretly loves him, awaiting only the sign of ludicrous yellow stockings to be assured that her feelings are reciprocated.

Co-directors Craig Johnson and Damian Leverett have cast for chemistry, and there’s constant combustion as the plot goes through its silly paces. The actors bring out Shakespeare’s randy references without the kind of awkwardly obvious gestures that say, “You’re getting this, right?” Jorie Kosel’s colorful costumes are supplemented by props pulled from an onstage trunk, lending the 417-year-old play a fresh sense of spontaneity.

Palic is a riot as Olivia, whose state of mourning can’t quench the fire that leaps in her loins when she gets a glimpse of the mustachioed Viola. At her side, Shaw delivers a masterclass as Malvolio, making the gullible character so outrageously entertaining that Friday night’s audience started spontaneously applauding at the end of his scenes. Anna Leverett grounds the proceedings with Viola, touchingly sincere but a game comic foil.

This Twelfth Night is a spirited celebration, a spark of hope and life in a very dark season.

The subterranean Glanton Theater at Calvary Baptist Church, just off Eat Street, feels cozy and festive for the young company’s production of Twelfth Night. (It’s still seasonally appropriate: The eponymous evening marks Epiphany, the official end of the Christmas season.) Cabaret tables are arranged under strings of lights and decorations; to ensure there’s something to put on those tables, each ticket holder gets snacks and drink tickets.

Lush up your Shakespeare? It might sound like bribery, but happily there’s no need for that: This frolicsome production would be well worth the price of admission even without the party favors. It’s one of those shows where the actors are clearly enjoying themselves so much that the atmosphere becomes contagious. That’s all the more so because the action unfolds all around the audience, with actors running around the room and ducking behind tables.

Part of the fun is the show’s pop-music chestnuts. It’s an adapted version of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” that establishes the divergent fates of twin siblings Viola (Anna Leverett) and Sebastian (Corey DiNardo).

Shipwrecked and believing her brother to be drowned, Viola dresses as a man to take a job with Duke Orsino (Kevin Fanshaw), who’s pining with pointedly unrequited longing for Olivia (Shae Palic). The latter, instead, takes a fancy for Viola’s “Cesario,” while Viola falls for her boss. Meanwhile, supporting characters conspire to fool the pompous Malvolio (Ben Shaw) into thinking Olivia secretly loves him, awaiting only the sign of ludicrous yellow stockings to be assured that her feelings are reciprocated.

Co-directors Craig Johnson and Damian Leverett have cast for chemistry, and there’s constant combustion as the plot goes through its silly paces. The actors bring out Shakespeare’s randy references without the kind of awkwardly obvious gestures that say, “You’re getting this, right?” Jorie Kosel’s colorful costumes are supplemented by props pulled from an onstage trunk, lending the 417-year-old play a fresh sense of spontaneity.

Palic is a riot as Olivia, whose state of mourning can’t quench the fire that leaps in her loins when she gets a glimpse of the mustachioed Viola. At her side, Shaw delivers a masterclass as Malvolio, making the gullible character so outrageously entertaining that Friday night’s audience started spontaneously applauding at the end of his scenes. Anna Leverett grounds the proceedings with Viola, touchingly sincere but a game comic foil.

This Twelfth Night is a spirited celebration, a spark of hope and life in a very dark season.

Twelfth Night
Calvary Baptist Church
2608 Blaisdell Ave., Minneapolis
Through Jan. 19; orchardtheatercollective.org