Viola washes up on the beach to the electric strains of Wipe Out in Bard on Bower’s banzai version of Twelfth Night.
Prime Stock Theatre’s rad rendering of Shakespeare’s comedy opened on Thursday on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds. It comes complete with board shorts, bathing suits, beach umbrellas — and breezy Beach Boys and Surfaris tunes performed by talented local band Underside Pattern.
With colourful surfboards lining the stage, the setting has clearly moved from Illyria on the Adriatic coast to the Pacific shores of Southern California.
The Duke Orsino, played by Isiah Williams, has become the equivalent of MoonDoggie, the surfer hero of those early 1960s Gidget movies. He rushes for the waves whenever he hears “Surf’s up!” despite his lovelorn status. For when he isn’t riding the swells, Orsino is pining for unattainable rich girl Olivia.
Played with a haughty air by Danielle LaRose, Olivia is supposedly mourning the death of her brother behind a giant pair of sunglasses and fashionable wide-brimmed hat. But it’s pretty obvious she just isn’t into dating surfers — at least not surfer boy Orsino.
When a shipwrecked Viola (Erin Pettifor) arrives on the beach scene, she becomes a gender-bending Gidget. Renaming herself Cesario, she dresses as a male to accept employment from the Duke. But Viola quickly falls for Orsino, even thought she’s hired to woo Olivia on his behalf.
Things get more convoluted when Olivia inexplicably falls for Cesario (aka Viola). But it adds to the fun in this entertaining production that Pettifor, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Lucille Ball, makes absolutely no attempt to seem remotely masculine as Cesario.
The stately Olivia is throwing herself at a pale girly man dressed in wide shorts, a check shirt and poor-boy cap.
One possible reason Twelfth Night, from 1601, has stayed popular is because it contains more than its share of clowns and buffoons.
In this production, under the tongue-in-cheek direction of Thomas Usher, the priggish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Brock Beal) uses a dinghy paddle instead of sword to ‘battle’ first Cesario, and then Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (JP Lord).
Sir Toby Belch (Tom Bradshaw) slurs his way through scenes after imbibing too much beach-side ale, while Malvolio (Richie Jackson) is put into a straitjacket after falling for a practical joke orchestrated by Oliva’s gentlewoman Maria (Robyn Jeffrey).
In one of the funniest bits, Olivia’s jester Feste (Sarah Spicer) dresses as an evangelical preacher and speaks Shakespeare’s dialogue like someone from the Ozarks.
While it would have been nice to hear vestiges of California surfer-speak mingled into some of the other Elizabethan dialogue, that’s probably asking for too much of the cast!
While a few kinks still needed ironing out at the run-though rehearsal I attended, the actors did a great job of reinventing this classic comedy and getting the thrust of the plot line across in speeches.
The music is one of the show’s biggest assets. Underside Pattern (which performed Beatles songs at last summer’s Bard on Bower) does justice to such tunes as Surfin’ USA, Barbara Ann, California Girls and God Only Knows — which is the best soundtrack ever for a happy ending.
This easy, breezy, surfer version of Twelfth Night is about as summery as Shakespeare gets.
Admission is free but donations are appreciated. Bring a lawnchair, blanket, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
Twelfth Night will alternate performances with Bard on Bower’s King Lear, which opens on Thursday, July 23.
Twelfth Night runs at 7 p.m. on July 17, 18, 22, 26 and 30 (also at 2 p.m. on July 25 and Aug. 1).
King Lear will be staged at 7 p.m. July 23, 24, 25, 29, 31 and Aug. 1 (also at 2 p.m. on July 26 and Aug. 2).
For the first time, a beer tent will be available at the outdoor site. As well, special performances will be held by Bull Skit and Tree House Youth Theatre on July 25 and Aug. 1.