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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008

Shakespeare in the Suburbs

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After a long holiday slumber, big-market theater returns next weekend as Milwaukee Shakespeare opens its production of Twelfth Night at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity stars Alexis McGuinness as Viola, a woman shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, a small country in southern Europe. In the shipwreck she loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian (Kevin Rich), who she believes to be dead. Viola masquerades as a page boy who comes into the service of Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, played here by Brian J. Gill. Orsino wishes to woo Lady Olivia (Molly Rhode) and uses his new page boy as a messenger.

Things get complicated as Olivia begins to fall for Viola instead, unaware that she is, in fact, a woman. Thus follows the usual comedy that inhabits much of Shakespeare’s lighthearted works. It’s all a bit absurd, but it makes for an exceedingly fun night at the theater. And with an impressive cast assembled under director Paula Suozzi, the absurdity should be deftly executed. Suozzi says she holds a deep respect for the play because it is the most human of Shakespeare’s comedies, and she directs it as such. With McGuinness in the central role of Viola, the production should have a fresh feel. McGuinness, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, will be making her debut with Milwaukee Shakespeare. Her work at Yale, which met with favorable reviews, included the East Coast premiere of Amy Freed’s Safe In Hell as directed by Mark Wing-Davey.

The rich cast also includes the returning talents of Darrel Cherney, Chase Stoeger and Andrew Truschinski. The stage of the Wilson Center offers plenty of space to work with, and judging from the design details, Noele Stollmack’s set should be both abstract and stunning. Design elements will play up the meeting of land and water, comedy and drama, and specificity and ambiguity. The larger stage should benefit the play’s fight scenes as well, providing choreographer Todd Denning with a welcome departure from the confined spaces that the company has been forced to deal with recently.

Costuming by Mara Blumenfeld is going to be somewhat modern without designating any specific time period. Robert Spencer plays the singing clown Feste, and concert musician John Manno will join the cast as a musician accompanying Spencer in song. The production runs Jan. 26 through Feb. 3.