FSU's Twelfth Night Review

By Trevor Durham on November 4, 2015

Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some have greatness thrust upon them. The immortal words of Twelfth Night ring loud and clear in the walls of FSU’s Lab Theatre, the cute little black box overflowing with Shakespeare this weekend. Removing any controversial directorial changes, director Michael Hayden has set out to make a true-to-form comedy that’s sure to entertain those new to the Elizabethan theatre, cynical theatre goers, and die hard text-lovers such as myself. Twelfth Night does not disappoint.

For those new to this comedy of errors, Twelfth Night is a story about drag, deceit, and disguises. Viola, believing her twin brother dead in a shipwreck, disguises herself as a gentleman in the court of an influential Duke. As the Duke attempts to court a wealthy countess, Olivia, through ‘Cesario’ (Viola’s disguise), things begin to go awry as sexualities are questioned. The disguised Viola’s predicament becomes more and more complex, and when her twin brother returns to town, the farce reaches a hilarious peak.

If that summary confuses, don’t worry- the director and his actors put on a show so exquisitely played out that you never lose yourself in the plot-lines. If there was any worry of following Viola/Cesario, the Duke, and the Countess, I never would have been able to fully appreciate the underlying story of a vicious prank on a count.

Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguencheek, and Maria decide to deceive one of Olivia’s courtiers into absurdity as the drama of disguises moves onward. This trio (the performance I saw, at least) was played respectively by a powerful Michael Leyte-Vidal, absolutely side-splitting Ian Bossung, and ridiculous Erin McNellis. What a pleasant surprise that these exquisite characters were played by equally quick actors, making each scene of these fools undeniably raunchy- anytime Ian was onstage, slapping his thighs and open-mouthed laughing, it was hard to keep a straight face, or even look anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Daniel Deist
The men of Twelfth Night pose backstage.

Speaking of fools, no production of Twelfth Night would be complete without a knavish Feste- the town’s fool. Alec Ruiz uses his animated abilities to invigorate the character with an almost Johnny Depp-like energy. His bawdy delivery and smooth voice bring more layers into this already excellent production.

I have not held off on mentioning the lead performers for any reason other than to save the best for last- Derek Grose’s intimidating demeanor graces the stage in such demanding presence that you occasionally feel as if in the room with true royalty. Karina Willis as Olivia gives heart-wrenching soliloquies on her heart’s confusion, a true romantic performer. But Franci Holland headlines this quality production with such enamoring wit, brevity, soul, and passion that each emotional flip tugs the heartstrings. Holland has a future in performance ifTwelfth Night is any indication- you don’t see a performance this strong in school theatre often.

A final note- Thank you, Hudson Meeks, for the letter scene. I haven’t ever seen a Malvolio who made this scene as absurd and humorous as you have. Kudos.

Twelfth Night is playing this weekend at FSU’s Lab Theatre, 8pm on Friday and Saturday, 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are still available. Don’t miss this opportunity.

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