We sing the Bard electric! A cross-dressing Viola (Sara Holdren, right) misleads Duke Orsino (Chris Estey) and Olivia (Katy Walker) in Four County Players’ production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
"What You Will," the phrase that Shakespeare cast as a second title for Twelfth Night, is a tool, a means to an end. When Countess Olivia of Illyria sends her doting drip of a servant, Malvolio, to steer away a messenger from her suitor, Duke Orsino, she instructs him: "I am sick, or not at home; what you will to dismiss it."
In a comedy heavy with double-crossings (not to mention sword-crossing and cross-dressing), "What You Will" is a call for the guiltless, any-means-necessary action that every generation recognizes (Look at Tony Soprano! Nike and "Just Do It"! Larry the Cable Guy and "Git ‘r Done"!). And so Four County Players director John Holdren followed his muse without questioning it.
Holdren’s oldest daughter Sara (cast as "shipwrecked she" Viola turned quick-tongued fellow Cesario) fed her father a few tunes "by ‘indie rock’ bands she’d discovered at college," including the song "Busby Berkeley Dreams" by Magnetic Fields. Inspired by the director of campy ’30s Hollywood musicals, the tune sent Holdren careening through free associations until, epiphany! What Holdren willed for his production: "An image of Orsino not in Renaissance garb but in black tie and tails, like Fred Astaire."
And Holdren’s ends justify his means: Each song delivered in Twelfth Night arrives at the climax of a monologue or dialogue, with each character taking a beat, self-consciously engaging the audience with their eyes as the lights shine a bit brighter and nailing a number. Katy Walker’s smitten-if-boy-crazy Olivia lofts "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" to the audience, and Orsino—who Four County newcomer Chris Estey injects with a crumbling stoicism—knocks the aforementioned "Busby" out of the park, singing of Viola: "I should have forgotten you long ago, but you’re in every song I know."
If the musical numbers give the play a gorgeous dip into the surreal sea of love, then the cast keeps the ship afloat. Sara Holdren (who, in her Cast Bio, lists eight performances as men in Shakespeare plays to her credit) has a convincingly masculine swagger as Cesario and delivers a few tunes in a deep, brassy voice that resonates like a french horn and still manages to give away Viola’s love for Orsino (thanks to a hilarious dance sequence that screams ’30s but comes across like a segment from a Brokeback Mountain musical).
As the increasingly unhinged servant Malvolio, Robert Wray—Charlottesville’s Paul Giamatti—is a riot in his moments of self-fancy and pitiable in his deception at the clever tricks of Olivia’s assistant Maria (Sara Eshleman) and her three memorable cohorts, whose blatant stoogery makes for a great delivery of one of Shakespeare’s most humorous subplots. Though Clinton Johnston and Eamon Hyland are a brilliant pair as Olivia’s "drunkle," Sir Toby Belch and his protegé, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (by way of Jaleel White’s "Steve Urkle"), Allen Van Houzen’s turn as Feste the Fool binds the three, through an unflinchingly giddy, quick-tongued delivery of even quicker puns.
Although relocated from the usual setting (do not go to the ruins! The play is at the Barboursville Community Center!) and packed with pop music, Four County Players’s production of Twelfth Night is entirely rewarding. Play on.
Four County Players present Twelfth Night Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $10-16 for weekend shows; all tickets for Thursday and Friday shows are $10.