Orsino searches for the right melody to describe his desire for Olivia.
Featuring (L to R): Rebecca Pingree, Ben Euphrat, Cory Sands. Photo: Pak Han/Shotgun

Shotgun Players struggles through its version of “Twelfth Night” as it populates the production with mediocre music, uneven and occasionally painful acting, stagey technique and free wine for the audience, rather than concentrate on the heart, guts and language of the play, which is about love and its suffering.

“Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies in which a female character disguises herself as a man. The aristocratic Viola (Rebecca Pingree) lands on the Illyrian coast after being shipwrecked in a terrible storm. Alone, and assuming that her twin brother Sebastian has been drowned, Viola dresses up as a man named Cesario and finds work in the household of Duke Orsino (Ben Euphrat). Although Orsino loves the Lady Olivia (Ari Rampy), she is mourning her dead brother and refuses any and all advances from the noble Orsino, as well as from the silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Nick Medina), a friend of Lady Olivia’s drunken uncle, the loud Sir Toby Belch (Billy Raphael).

In addition to Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the rowdy Sir Toby, other members of Olivia’s household are Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, Maria (Deborah Rucker), Feste (Jeremy Vik), the clown and Malvolio (Terry Rucker), the puritanical steward.

The main action of the play involves Olivia’s romantic attraction to Cesario (Viola in disguise), Viola’s secret love for Orsino and the unexpected appearance of her missing twin, Sebastian.

Olivia, thinking that he is Cesario, marries Sebastian. Confusion ensues. At the end, the siblings are joyfully reunited, Olivia and Sebastian are happy, and Orsino realizes that he loves Viola. Sir Toby and Maria have also been married.

Viola, newly shipwrecked on Illyria, with Feste.
Featuring (L to R): Rebecca Pingree, Jeremy Vik. Photo: Pak Han/Shotgun

It is unfortunate that portions of the play were cut, allowing for limited character development and enlarging the importance of the inane subplot about the practical joke played on Malvolio by Maria. She writes a letter to him purported to be from his beloved Olivia instructing him that, to earn her favor, he should dress in yellow stockings and crossed garters, smile constantly and refuse to explain himself. His strange behavior leads Olivia to think that he is mad. He is locked in a room, but is later released and the trick is explained.

Shotgun bills itself as a “little theater company that does big plays,” and although I very much appreciated its big and complex play, “The Coast of Utopia,” Shotgun misses the mark with “Twelfth Night.” The music was occasionally melodic, but often screechy; the acting was energetic, but sometimes lacked clarity and often lacked emotion. I’m not sure what the director was trying to accomplish with this production, but it didn’t work for me.

“Twelfth Night” is playing through Aug. 10. For information visit Shotgun Players.

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Emily S. Mendel

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...