Live theatre is back in a grand fashion at the beautiful Sontag Greek Theatre, a sprawling outdoor venue, situated on the prestigious Pomona College campus in Claremont, CA. And what a better way to resume the conviviality that theatre evokes, since Covid-19 restrictions prohibited even outdoor gatherings, than with a production that reimagines William Shakespeare’s classic comedy, “Twelfth Night.” Artistic Director/Scenic Designer Beatrice Casagran and Director Caitlin Lopez (who also stars as Sir Toby) have sparked such inspiration by giving residents in the area an opportunity to enjoy a play rife with charismatic performers and to do so with the assurance that all safety protocols will continue to be followed as need be.
This rendition of “Twelfth Night” is the enthralling brain child of Ophelia’s Jump Productions, and the first entry in the Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, which has made its triumphant return. For the uninitiated, the premise is driven by mistaken identities and a love triangle that takes shape following a shipwreck in ancient Illyria, which separates brother-sister twins: Viola and Sebastian, who is believed by the former to have perished. Viola then assumes the identity of a man named Cesario who becomes a liaison of Duke Orsino, helping to relay Orsino’s love to a mourning Countess Olivia, who, by humorous happenstance, instead falls in love with Viola disguised as Cesario. Complicating matters is that Viola has in turn fallen for Orsino. Adding further levity to the plot are a group of uproarious characters linked to Olivia — those being her charming servants Fabian and Maria, her devil-may-care uncle Sir Toby, and a rip-roaring suitor named Sir Andrew, who conspire to make a fool of Olivia’s trusted steward, Malvolio, by convincing him via a faux letter that Olivia is actually in love with him.
The roughly two-and-a-half-hour production is entrancing to look at — not just due to Beatrice Casagran’s multicolored stage, but Sheila Malone’s lighting design, which spotlights the performers with a lushness of palettes. Mark Gamez’s choice of modern costumes — from everyday jeans to vests and sneakers — also work well in communicating a contemporaneous take on Shakespeare’s tale. The content of the play moves briskly and effortlessly thanks to Director Caitlin Lopez who leads by example as the quick-witted Sir Toby. Lopez’s leadership is on display too given that the cast looks and feels liberated on stage, not afraid to interject modern-day colloquialisms when appropriate. Better yet, they work in a well-oiled manner, delivering their lines with a seamless inflection when, combined with context clues and non-verbal cues, makes Shakespeare easy to understand for everyone.
Case in point is Janelle Kester, who inhabits both Viola and Cesario unflappably. She stands out by speaking with a cogent diction and having a nuanced approach to her scenes, eliciting just the right amount of tension when being one of the guys with Marc Antonio Pritchett’s commanding Duke or when opposite Janette Valenzo’s passionately played Olivia. In addition, Scott Robinson is terrific as Sebastian, especially when paired with Ryan Herrera’s infatuated Antonio. Holly Scott is also deviously mischievous as a memorable Maria and Sam Forbes is a whirlwind of comic timing as either the animated Andrew or the hilarious Priest. Ian Hartdige, likewise, who is usually clad in sparkling heels, is unapologetically spectacular. It is Jenny Lockwood’s Malvolio, though, that might leave the most lasting impression for audiences as she is simultaneously capable of being formidable, worthy of our sympathy, and ingeniously funny, particularly when attempting to seduce Valenzo’s Olivia with cross-gartered yellow stockings.
Overall, this contemporary version of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” by Ophelia’s Jump Productions entertains from start to finish, powered by a collection of intrepid performers who are clearly having the time of their lives reacquainting audience members with the incomparable zeal of live theatre.
“Twelfth Night” will be performed five more times: On Sunday, July 18th, as well as Thursday, July 22nd through Sunday, July 25th, with performances beginning at 8 pm at the Sontag Greek Theatre on the Pomona College campus in Claremont, CA. Attendees are invited to picnic and check out artisanal vendor booths on-site. Craft beer and wine are also available.
Tickets can be purchased by calling (909) 734-6565 or by visiting opheliasjump.org