‘Twelfth Night’ cast is beguiling

William Shakespeare’s beloved comedy “Twelfth Night” always sweeps me away. We’re not dealing with British royalty and treachery, we’re having mixups in love and identity in an exotic, foreign location, and that’s appealing.

A beguiling cast did all it could to add spice to this comedy of errors in St. Louis Shakespeare’s well-appointed production. But special attention must be given to Adam Flores for stepping into the role of Orsino due to another actor’s family emergency, and he gave a Herculean effort, so you must forgive the script-carrying, a necessary crutch that he did not look at too much by Sunday’s matinee.

Flores tried hard to make us forget he was new at this, a mere few days in the part, and succeeded in the role as a mopey count, besotted with melodramatic Olivia, a countess in mourning. He gets over her quickly, though, when he figures out Viola is the one that he wants.

Company founder, now retired, Donna Northcott is back in the director’s chair, and she confidently swirls the action around a striking, and functional, set designed by Ryan Ethridge, inspired by ancient Turkey. It’s freeing not to be confined to a stuffy castle or manor.

Twins Viola and Sebastian (Vanessa Waggoner and Eric Kuhn, a winsome pair) have been separated in a fierce storm, shipwrecked on the shores of the fictional kingdom of Illyria. Each one assumes the other is dead. Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, and is secretly in love with Orsino, while Sebastian, in identical garb, is the object of Olivia’s affection.

Oh dear, the situation is a fine mess, for passions are fickle in this work, and rife with pranksters and lovesick characters.

Hilarity ensues with grandiose Sir Andrew and delusional steward Malvolio, portrayed with gusto by Jaime Zayas and Christopher LaBanca. The statuesque Elizabeth Knocke is an alluring Olivia, adept at both comedy and romance.

Don McClendon, with his deep and smooth baritone voice, stands out as sea captain Antonio, and both Patience Davis, as Olivia’s chambermaid Maria, and Britteny Henry, as the fool Feste, are captivating.

Rounding out the engaging ensemble are Tom Moore, Nathan Robert Hinds, Ted Drury, Robert Ashton, and Maxwell Knocke.

The lighting design by Maureen Berry and costume design by Wes Jenkins capture the playful nature of the piece.

That playful spirit is carried over into a fun curtain call, with a vigorously choreographed number.

“Twelfth Night”

  • Who: St. Louis Shakespeare
  • When: Oct. 8-11
  • Where: Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan, St. Louis
  • Information and tickets: www.stlshakespeare.org; 314-361-5664