SPRING GREEN, Wis. - In saner times, we probably wouldn't look to Shakespearean drama as escapism.
But these aren't saner times and spending an evening in Spring Green at the American Players Theatre presentation of "Twelfth Night" does provide an opportunity to take leave of the ugliness of so much of today's cultural dialogue, at least for a few hours.
More than that: This is the funniest production of "Twelfth Night" I've ever seen and, over the years, I've seen quite a few such productions.
It includes 17 actors and there isn't even a mediocre performance in the cast.
You'd actually have to be an APT fan to appreciate this, but Colleen Madden – who has been part of the company for 19 years – plays a supporting role and sort of blends into the cast. When Colleen Madden plays a role, the audience usually knows she's there.
Scholars believe "Twelfth Night" was written in 1601 or 1602.
Like many of Shakespeare's comedies, it relies on mistaken identities to form the plot and the humor.
The lead characters are Viola (Kelsey Brennan) and her twin brother, Sebastian (Michael Goldstein) who are shipwrecked. Viola believes her brother to be drowned. When she is cast on shore, she disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and becomes a page for Duke Orsino (Gavin Lawrence), who, in turn, is in love with Countess Olivia (Alia Peck).
Well, Cesario falls in love with Orsino but can't acknowledge it because Orsino thinks she is a boy. She carries Orsino's messages to Olivia who spurns the duke but does fall for Cesario.
It's that sort of plot and only incredible acting can make one stay awake for more than an act. This play has incredible acting.
One of the best performances comes from Triney Sandoval, who acts the role of Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle, who is a hilariously funny roustabout and keeps the audience rocking with laughter.
In the end, most everyone is happy. Viloa turned Cesario wins the hand of Orsino. Her brother, now found and very much alive, marries Olivia. Malvolio, a pompous ass who is tricked into thinking Olivia loves him, gets his comeuppance and all is well.
One thing about these plays is that Shakespeare tends to like cross-dressing women who outsmart the men in the drama. There's an essay in this month's "Atlantic" magazine that suggests that Shakespeare's plays may actually have been written by a woman. It's an interesting thought.
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