Maybe the Best ‘Twelfth Night’ You’ll Ever See!

Chris Myles (Malvolio), Vince Leigh (Sir Toby Belch) and Gary Shelford (Maria) in Propeller's Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Chris Myles (Malvolio), Vince Leigh (Sir Toby Belch), Gary Shelford (Maria), and Liam O’Brien (Feste) in Propeller’s Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Photo by Manuel Harlan

William Shakespeare’s crossgender roles have been a source of comedy and insight for 400 plus years. It’s timelessly funny to see a woman disguising herself as a man in order to make her way in the world. The disguised woman may enter a realm otherwise disallowed to her and what she sees there can be scandalous, heartbreaking, dangerous, or just downright hilarious.

London’s all male Propeller troupe soon closes its Guthrie Theater run of what may be the most complex of the bard’s trans comedies, Twelfth Night or What You Will. We see women played by men disguised a men.

Ben Allen (Olivia) and Joseph Chance (Viola) in Propeller's Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.  Photo by Manuel Harlan

Ben Allen (Olivia) and Joseph Chance (Viola) in Propeller’s Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Too often productions of this 410-or-so-year-old play emphasize one subplot over another and fail to weave the complexities together. But director Edward Hall has shaped the various relationships into a coherent whole that moves and amazes. Joseph Chance as Viola, the shipwrecked maiden who dons male attire, Ben Allen as noble woman Olivia, and the sparkling Gary Shelford as the wiley Maria, give terrific performances. In Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era, only men were allowed to play women on stage. Propeller explores that archaic tradition with seriousness. Twelfth Night runs alternately with their The Taming of The Shrew (discussed here with Propeller). Neither production can be said to be campy. The women’s roles are rendered credibly and beautifully.

Twelfth Night in
repertory with The Taming of the Shrew
Through Apr. 6
Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224
www.guthrietheater.org

Vince Leigh (Sir Toby Belch), Liam O'Brien (Feste) and John Dougall (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) in Propeller's Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Vince Leigh (Sir Toby Belch), Liam O’Brien (Feste) and John Dougall (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) in Propeller’s Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Photo by Manuel Harlan

 

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