‘Twelfth Night’ Gets New Ethington Season Off to a Roaring Start
Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
You know how it goes with a Shakespearean romantic comedy. You can’t tell the lovers without a program, and a flow chart certainly would come in handy.
So it was with “The Comedy of Errors” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” performed by the Grand Canyon University theatre program in 2011 and 2012, respectively. And so it is with “Twelfth Night,” the first production of the new Ethington Theatre Series, which opened over the weekend.
The classic line “The course of true love never did run smooth” came from the Bard’s pen, of course, and he never grew tired of dreaming up examples. Like the others, “Twelfth Night” finally gets all of the circuitousness sorted out in the end.
Director Michael Kary opts for a mostly conventional interpretation, unlike what Ethington audiences saw with “Comedy” (set in Mardi Gras New Orleans), “Midsummer” (given a social-media twist) and last season’s opener, the cowboy-styled “Much Ado About Nothing.” The strength of this production lies in its seasoned cast of student performers, given plenty of room by Kary and scenic designer Bill Symington to show what they can do.
The story, briefly: After being shipwrecked, Viola (played by Holly Nordquist) enters into the service of a duke, Orsino (Josh Vanderpoel). She falls for him, but his attentions are drawn to Olivia (Devyn Garrett) and he uses Viola — who has taken a disguise as a man named Cesario — as an intermediary. Meanwhile, three drunken louts and a rogue jester trick Olivia’s steward, Malvolio (William Wyss), into thinking that Olivia wants him. Adding to the mess, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (David Magadan), who was feared dead, shows up.
The most fun here is supplied by the drunks, Toby (Aaron Potter), Andrew (Ryan Usher) and Fabian (Tyler Stokey). All three actors have been part of GCU’s fledgling improvisational comedy troupe, which is no coincidence. They execute some very physical comedy with great timing and ease, and they complement the jester Feste (Adam Benavides) perfectly.
Benavides, now a senior, shows his full range of skills in this production. He sings, he dances a jig, he makes funny faces and does voices — and it’s never too much. When he takes a role, he owns it, down to the tiniest details. He has been delivering terrific performances for a while now, and this year should be his best yet.
In a strong turn as Malvolio, Wyss demonstrates that it’s not so funny in life when the joke goes too far. His arrogant character definitely deserves to be taken down a few pegs, but the tormentors refuse to stop until he is completely humiliated and driven mad. What starts as a silly prank gets out of hand.
When Malvolio leaves the stage vowing, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” he is a defeated and ruined man. It’s painful to watch, forcing us to think about the cruel things we’re capable of doing to others while pretending it’s only sport. Credit Wyss that no one in the audience was laughing. They got the point.
Three years ago, in the return of theatre to campus after a lengthy hiatus, the Ethington series opened with the musical “The Pirates of Penzance” and relied heavily on GCU alumni — including Kary — to shoulder the performing load. There wasn’t enough student talent available yet.
“Twelfth Night” needed no such propping up. GCU’s gifted student cast had this one all the way, and the 2013-14 season — featuring a stellar Class of 2014 — should turn out to be a memorable one.
The final three shows of “Twelfth Night” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the Ethington box office at 639.8880.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.