by William Shakespeare
Presented by Orlando – UCF Shakespeare Festival at the Lake Eola Bandshell through 5-9-99
We open when a shipwreck strands young Viola on the mythical island of Illyria. Illyria bears a striking resemblance to Key West, complete with cell phones, cheap plastic furniture, and a dive shop. Viola promptly dresses like a boy and calls herself Cesario in hopes of landing a steady job. Hunky Duke Orsino takes her/him on to ferry love letters to the reluctant and grieving Olivia, whom he hopes to wed. Guys like Orsino never learn — always carry your own mail. Olivia falls for the messenger, who falls for the duke, and so forth until everyone has fallen for someone who is either the wrong sex, not interested, or hanging around waiting to log on to AOL. Meanwhile, Olivia’s besotted cousin and his two buddies spend their time tormenting her steward Malvolio, who also has high hopes of getting promoted to husband. Fat chance. This being Shakespeare, Malvolio not only faces total humiliation, but crafty Viola has an astoundingly identical twin brother who drifts in and out until he sorts out the loose ends in the last reel.
This limp string of misplaced lust is merely the 2 X 4 that supports this production’s real entertainment. Malvolio (Mark Rector) steals the show as he transforms from frustrated admirer of Olivia to a yellow-stockinged, crossed garter-and-leather boy. Never leave this guy alone on stage if you value your acting career. Drunken Sir Toby Belch (Paul Kiernan), Sir Augecheek (Steve Lewis), and their minstrel, Feste (Eric Hissom) torment him into hilarious humiliation as they bounce around the stage like three Elizabethan Stooges. Together they crank out rap, Rasta, and love ballads with equal lack of shame. They even handled the Orlando Fire Department’s unplanned visit like true improv artists — they made fun of it ’til the audience could hear them again.
As Shakespearean comedies go, this one is pretty indistinguishable from the rest. The Orlando – UCF company takes full advantage by abusing the dialogue, adding anachronisms, and twisting the intentions of the author to cover what nowadays goes by the name of “Addressing A Few Gender Issues.” The play pushes every possible sexual displacement, from Olivia’s crush on Viola as Cesario, to Malvolio’s cross-dressed crossed garters, to the hilt. Even the potentially awkward audience participation bit comes off well. Don’t let the cotton candy Florida tourist-colored set fool you — this isn’t your High School teacher’s Shakespeare anymore. It’s actually cool this time around.