Montford Park Players and their outdoor summer of Shakespeare are always a delight, especially on a cool summer night. And the perfect theatrical confection for such a night is the group’s latest production of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, one of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies. It involves shipwrecks, lost twins, pirates, puffed-up aristocracy and some sly cross-dressing.
For his strong vision for this production, director Adam Arthur has assembled a finely tuned ensemble of actors who not only understand the text well, but know how to play it up for all the laughs that are to be had. Arthur uses every inch of the stage (which is a lot of real estate to cover for a considerable small team of actors), as well as taking the action out into the audience, for elevated comedic impact.
The show opens with a ship at sea, caught in a massive storm. This setting is not something that can be accurately depicted in the Montford Park setting — especially since it’s still daylight when the show begins, and the audience can see absolutely everything, eliminating any point in stagecraft trickery. However, the choreographed opening sequence by Krist DeVille is inventive and mesmerizing. It conveys everything the audience needs to know to establish the tale.
Samantha Stewart stars as Viola, who washes ashore after a catastrophe at sea. She assumes the identity of her brother, Sebastian, who she believes has perished. Sebastian lives, though, and is on his own trek to find Viola with the help of the crafty pirate, Antonio. Adrian Suskauer and Jenni Robinson are great, respectively, in the roles of Sebastian and Antonio.
Myriad activity keeps the plot moving forward, as Viola finds herself in a bit of a romantic triangle when she falls for Duke Orsino. Meanwhile, Countess Olivia falls in love with Viola, thinking she is a man. Karl Knierim is wonderfully goofy as Orsino, and Ashleigh Millett is unflinchingly committed to the role of Olivia. They are surrounded by strong performances from David Mycoff, Francis Davis and Ryan Madden. Jason Williams and Skyler Goff, in particular, stand out, showing a strong command of the material and milking every ounce of comedy from it.
Before the show, Artistic Director Scott Keel greeted the audience with the news that John Robinson, one of the founders of Montford Park Players, recently passed away. More than 40 years ago, Robinson and his wife Hazel (for whom the amphitheater is named) saw a production of Twelfth Night while vacationing and were inspired to create a Shakespearean park in Asheville.
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will continues at Montford Park though Saturday, Aug. 1, with shows Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, donations are accepted.