The Human Race Theatre Company offers an effortlessly enchanting, stunningly designed presentation of William Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” a multilayered tale of gender reversal, mistaken identity, mismatched romance and unabashed silliness that opened Friday, January 28 at the Loft Theatre.
Aaron Vega, a Wright State University musical theater graduate and, at 28, the youngest director to stage a Human Race production, elegantly helms with a fresh and impressive awareness of the play’s conceptual intricacies and sparkling language. His decision to transport the setting from traditional Illyria to America during the Roaring Twenties is certainly a clever choice strikingly conveyed throughout the action by the cool, suave presence of pianist-vocalist-composer Christian Duhamel as witty clown Feste. Still, his astute attention to establishing the various pursuits of the Bard’s appealing characters, inhabited by a stellar cast, elevates the material beyond the unique era presented.
Claire Kennedy, who proved her worth as an expressive Bard interpreter in Wright State’s 2006 production of “As You Like It,” was born to play lovestruck intermediary Viola, who is separated from her presumably dead twin brother Sebastian (the amiably unassuming Justin Flagg) and ultimately develops feelings for Duke Orsino (an earnestly understated David Dortch) while disguising herself as his devoted pageboy Cesario. Kennedy, whose plaintive rendition of “Danny Boy” is an emotional highpoint, looks perfect in the role (gender bending was a signature fad of the ‘20s after all) and assumes a charming, adaptable masculinity (notice her uncertainty as to how she should hold a cigar) that grows more endearing when Cesario is wooed by the formidable Lady Olivia (a feisty Sara Mackie), Orsino’s object of affection.
Wonderfully cohesive comic relief, occasionally delivered in the audience, is supplied by the uninhibited Tim Lile as Olivia’s loutish and unapologetically flatulent uncle Sir Toby Belch, Josh Stamoolis as goofy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Jennifer Johansen (a remarkable Lady Capulet in the 2008 Human Race production of “Romeo and Juliet”) as Olivia’s cunning maid Maria, and Scott Stoney as the humble Malvolio, who is humorously tricked into thinking Olivia is in love with him. Kevin Malarkey as Valentine and Matthew M. Moore (who directed an excellent “Much Ado About Nothing” last season at Cedarville University) as Sea Captain/Anthonio complete the cast.
“Twelfth Night” is a lighthearted escape from the winter doldrums that clearly suggests Vega’s first attempt at Shakespeare for the Human Race will not be his last.
Twelfth Night continues through Sunday, February 13 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15.50-$39. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. A special open forum discussion will be held following the Sunday, February 6 performance. For tickets, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org. Also, Christian Duhamel will perform a concert of his original songs entitled Here With Me Tuesday, February 8 at 9:30 p.m. at the Neon Movies, 130 E. Fifth St. For more information, visit www.neonmovies.com.
In related news, the Human Race’s 25th anniversary/2011-12 season, an entire slate of local premieres that have collected nearly 25 Tony Award nominations, will consist of Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony Award-winning dramatic comedy God of Carnage (Sept. 8-25, 2011), Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s 2004 Tony Award-nominated musical Caroline, or Change (Nov. 3-20, 2011; directed by Scott Stoney), John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award-winning Mark Rothko-themed drama Red (Jan. 19-Feb. 5, 2012; a partnership with the Dayton Art Institute who will present a Rothko exhibition during the run), August Wilson’s 2005 Tony Award-nominated drama Gem of the Ocean (March 28-April 15, 2012); and Mark Allen, Gaby Alter, Gordon Greenberg and Tommy Newman’s musical Band Geeks (May 31-June 17, 2012; directed by Kevin Moore).