Twelfth Night

by Christine Malcom

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday December 3, 2017

Twelfth Night
  (Source:Tom McGrath)

For the third year in a row, Midsommer Flight stages Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" within the Lincoln Park Conservatory as part of Chicago's "Night Out in the Parks" program. Directed by company member Dylan S. Roberts, and featuring original music by Elizabeth Rentfro and Alex Mauney, the production is one hundred charming minutes in a lovely, if challenging venue.

The conservatory's Show House room is a long, relatively narrow space, which requires gallery staging for the intimate performance. The sight lines from anywhere but the front row are challenging, as are the acoustics from time to time, but Roberts and his cast seem well aware of the limitations. Intelligent, dynamic blocking keeps any one section of the audience from missing out consistently, and the pacing remains brisk as it makes good use of the entrances at either side of the space.

With only a handful of crates in the way of a set, most of the scene setting relies on Shawn Quinlan's costume design, which is a pleasing blend of "out of the closet" and hyper-theatrical. Count Orsino, for example, has a pale blue "Prince Charming" jacket over straightforward slacks and shirt. The sailors, newly arrived in Illyria (including Viola in her disguise as Cesario), sport slightly more rustic pieces that denote them as strangers.

Within Countess Olivia's household, the ladies dress more or less like contemporary twenty-somethings, whereas Sir Tobey Belch and his debauched entourage, as well as Feste the Fool, have decidedly more flair in their flowing, patchwork silks. The supporting players' costumes are a mix of brocades and velvets that allow them to serve in their variety of roles smoothly.

LaKecia Harris is an exceptionally strong lead for the cast. Most notably, she captures the fact that Viola, although certainly a capable heroine, finds herself in an impossible, bewildering situation. Harris is confident enough in her Viola that she lets her stumble and look foolish from time to time.

Kristin Hammargren is a worthy second as Olivia. She's appealingly fierce in rebuffing Orsino's advances and in insisting on her right to mourn her brother. Without ever lapsing into stereotypical rigidity or prudery, she also plays Olivia's distaste for and frustration with being subject to a series of male relatives, particularly Sir Toby.

In charge of the purely comic elements, Jeremy Thompson is terrific as Sir Toby Belch. True to the character's name, Thompson adeptly walks the line between lovable drunk and true menace. Thompson and Sam Cheeseman (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) work very well together.

Cheeseman's gift for blank-faced delivery of Sir Andrew's malapropisms makes Sir Toby read like a scholar in comparison, and their scheming with the aid of Maria (quite ably played by Robin Waisanen) ramps up appealingly.

As Malvolio, Amy Malcom does wonderfully as the dour, unlikeable hanger-on in the household. Her exaggeratedly stiff, theatrical movements work well against the madcap backdrop of most of the action. Once Malvolio falls into the trap set by Toby et al., some of the choices are over the top enough that they tend to drag on the show's pace, but on the whole, the performance is decidedly fun to watch.

Ian Michael Minh (Orsino) and Julian Stroop (Sebastian) have drawn the task of playing the straight men in what Roberts frames as a women-forward screwball comedy, and both do an admirable job. Minh, noteworthily enough, manages to make Orsino an interesting, sympathetic character, despite the fact that the character's storyline makes him out to be rather a creep.

As Feste the Fool, Elizabeth Rentfro is cheeky, charming and mischievous. Moreover, she does much of the signing as well as on-stage music direction. Both the pre-show nontraditional holiday songs and the lovely, if rough-around-the-edges musical performances in the course of the show added greatly to the show's appeal.

"Twelfth Night" runs through December 17 in the Show House room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 Stockton Drive, Chicago. For reservations (highly recommended due to limited seating), visit

Christine Malcom is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Roosevelt University and Adjunct Faculty in Liberal Arts and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a physical anthropologist, theater geek, and all-around pop culture enthusiast.