Twelfth Night T’was A Masterpiece

Pittsburgh Public Theater recently welcomed William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, to The O’Reilly Theater. Written in the 1600’s, the play follows the topsy-turvy and intertwining narratives of Viola (Carly Street) and Sebastian (Max Rosenak), twins separated in a shipwreck, who take on various paths to realization. Viola, who disguises herself as a man, falls in love with her master, Duke Orsino, all the while, the Duke is smitten with Countess Olivia (Gretchen Egolf), who subsequently falls for Viola (Dressed as a Man), after she/he delivers the news of the Duke’s love for Olivia.

Basically, it’s a Facebook poke.

As the story twists along in true Shakespearean fashion, a cavernous juxtaposition of events jaunts from one scene to the next, leading the audience down an ever-so-clever rabbit hole of somewhat decipherable limericks, songs, poems, and innuendos. One must watch like a hawk, or thou hast be lost forever. An exquisitely evocative set, courtesy of James Noone, set the stage for a wild night of well-timed bedlam.

Carly Street as Viola played a respectfully disenchanted role. Torn between who she loved and who loved her, the gender-bending part demanded a muted patriot with verbose grandiosity, in which Street hit the mark, mostly. In some cases, Street seemed flat and disconnected from her surroundings, but quickly regained her momentum and delighted the audience.

Carly Street as Viola and Gretchen Egolf as Olivia

Brent Harris as Malvolio stole the show with a persnickety haute couture persona who was as deafeningly funny as he was precocious. His sire-esque tone bellowed throughout each line, wooing the audience. Staunch in stature, Harris owned the stage.

Brent Harris as Malvolio

Timothy D. Stickney ruled as Duke Orsino (Feature Image), a man possessed with love, and the stand-offish Countess Olivia who wanted no parts of his infatuation. Stickney was tailor-made for Shakespeare, hauntingly articulate with a powerful delivery of his rhetoric of truths. He made the audience believe in love, even misaligned obsession.

Another show stopper was John Ahlin as Sir. Toby Belch, the resident philandering drunk. Ahlin leaned into the overtly loquacious Belch. Seedy and malevolent, he traveled through the stage, pin balling his anarchy upon anyone who stood near his undertow of unbridled tomfoolery. Masterful.

(left to right) Helena Ruoti, John Ahlin and Tony Bingham

Honorable mention to Mitchell Jarvis who reprised Feste. Jarvis, a CMU grad who debuted with The Public, displayed an angelic voice underneath Feste’s wayward persona.

Mitchell Jarvis as Feste

Twelfth Night is a masterpiece for many reasons, and even if you’re not a Shakespeare person, the articulated movements of the well-polished cast will guide you along the undulating story lines and leave you a fan of 16th century chaos. The show runs through February 26th. For more information, visit Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Photos by Michael Henninger