Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s latest production, Twelfth Night directed by Tyrone Phillips, feels as much like a party as a play. Bursting with energy, this Caribbean-inspired production of Shakespare’s comedy is a delightful romp through a colorful world you’ll wish you could live in.
The action begins when Viola washes ashore in Illyria after a storm. She disguises herself as a boy to serve the Duke Orsino, who is desperately in love with the lady Olivia. The disguised Viola courts Olivia in the duke’s stead, and Olivia quickly falls for Viola’s male alter ego. Viola’s affections, on the other hand, lie with the Duke. Meanwhile, a secondary group of characters plot revenge against Olivia’s stuffy manservant Malvolio, and Viola’s twin brother Sebastian arrives at the island as well, leading to mistaken identities galore. Eventually, of course, all is made well, and the play ends in celebration.
A common complaint about Shakespeare is that his texts, now hundreds of years old, feel boring or dated. Not so here; in the mouths of the flawlessly cast actors, the words feel fresh and new. Jaeda LaVonne is fantastic as leading lady Viola, bringing a vivacity to the character that makes her a joy to watch. Another standout is Israel Erron Ford, who brings both wit and a beautiful singing voice to the role of the fool Feste. Ronald L. Conner is hilarious as the drunken Sir Toby, as is Danielle Davis as the scheming Maria. Christiana Clark is a commanding Olivia, filling the stage with her outstanding presence. My personal favorite performance is that of Paul Oakley Stovall as Malvolio; a character who in other hands could be a one-dimensional villain is here one of the greatest sources of physical comedy in a production that is rife with them.
The world of the production is brought to glorious life here by the production team. Scenic design by Sydney Lynne effectively transports the viewer to the lush island of Illyria, complete with lovely details like pink benches and a beautifully painted floor. Costume design by Christine Pascual is a riot of colors, patterns, and textures that perfectly represent the characters and the environment. Music is incorporated well throughout the production, with performers providing vibrant vocals and instrumentals that contribute to the world of the play feeling cheerful and full of life.
This Twelfth Night is overflowing with joy. Nearly every moment of the production is packed with humor and vitality. The production transforms Shakespeare’s text into a celebration of Caribbean culture and highlights its theme of the importance of love in our lives. In a world that seems increasingly filled with darkness, Twelfth Night is a bright light. Don’t miss this exhilarating production.
Dates: October 25–November 26, 2023
Location: Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater, 800 East Grand Avenue
Tickets: Start at $38. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website.
All photos by Liz Lauren.