Jill Weinlein, Chief New York Critic
Every time I visit the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, I feel as if I am on vacation. Set among ancient oak trees in the bucolic Topanga Canyon, this is by far the most picturesque outdoor amphitheater in Southern California.
Recently I saw on the main stage the romantic comedy Twelfth Night. Set on the magical Isle of Ilyria, Director Ellen Geer adds her own personal spin and flair to this beloved Shakespeare comedy. Together with the help from composer Marshall McDaniel, they orchestrate and arrange Shakespeare’s words written in 1601, into lyrics elevating the language to a greater understanding for the audience.
Standouts in the show include Willow Geer as the gender changing twin sister Viola/Cesario, and the beautiful aristocrat Lady Olivia (Christine Breihan) who falls madly in love with Cesario. Together they make quite a team, as her romantic feelings towards Cesario help her to forget about the loss of her brother in a shipwreck.
Viola also believes she lost her twin brother Sebastian (Cavin Mohrhardt) in the turbulent sea, and takes a job with the handsome Duke Orsino (Max Lawrence) who is madly in love with Lady Olivia creating a wickedly fun love triangle.
The mischievous team of Sir Andrew Aguecheek played by the wonderful tongue-in-cheek Frank Weidner, and practical joking, heavy drinking, late-night carousing Sir Toby (Christopher W. Jones), along with his love interest Maria (Elizabeth Tobias) add to the frivolity and romance of the show. They wander all over the wood stage and out into the woods next to the outdoor theatre, plotting and planning mischief throughout the show.
However my favorite actress is Melora Marshall as Malvolio. She portrays a straitlaced, priggish steward with a haughty attitude. Normally played by a man, Marshall gives 150% to her performance, especially after Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria play a cruel trick on her believing that Olivia is in love with her. It’s rollicking good fun, as Marshall runs down the dirt hill to the stage as if she were a hormonal teenage. She performs impressive yoga poses on the wooden stage to show off her bright yellow stockings, and goes completely mad when hidden and blindfolded in the trap door. This actress is one of the greatest performers of Shakespeare I have seen in years. Her scene with Feste (Time Winters), the clown, or fool of Olivia’s household is one of the many highlights in the show. Feste earns his living by his wisdom making pointed jokes, as well as singing old witty songs, and offering wise advice cloaked under a layer of foolishness.
Costume designer Amy Mazzaferro did a spectacular job dressing the characters, especially Lady Olivia in her wedding dress.
In the end, Twelfth Night is magical story about deception, disguise, madness and romance. It’s extra special seeing the show outdoors on a warm summer night.
Twelfth Night opened Theatricum's summer repertory season on Saturday, June 1. Performances will continue through Sept. 28. Tickets range from $10 - $42; children 4 and under are free.
Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley.
For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310-455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com.