Shakespeare Theatre Company

Set in a modern airport terminal, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s performance of the romantic comedy “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare takes the audience on a fantastical flight, encouraging them to leave their worries behind and travel with the actors to the faraway world of Illyria.

Full of fools, mayhem and unrequited love, the Shakespeare Theatre’s interpretation of this Shakespearian classic explores the longings of the human heart, reminding the audience that although love is worth the chase, not every story has a happy ending.

The play follows Viola, played by Antoinette Robinson, who has just survived a terrible plane crash. Believing her brother to have died in the wreck, Viola decides to disguise herself as a man and join the court of the foolishly lovesick Count Orsino, played by Bhavesh Patel.

Elsewhere in Illyria, the Lady Olivia, played by Hannah Yelland, mourns her recently deceased brother. When Viola, disguised as Cesario, woos Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, Olivia falls instantly in love with her. Consequently, Viola, who has fallen in love with Orsino, finds herself at the center of an awkward love triangle. From here, the play examines the pain of unrequited love, while juxtaposing this sadness against clever pranks and drunken melodies to create a tone that is equal parts melancholy and merry.

In his director’s note, Ethan McSweeny calls “Twelfth Night” “one of the most perfect comedies, ever written, the mid-career work of masterful dramatist.”

McSweeny’s admiration for the source material is evident in the artistic liberties he takes. Before the plane crash, the actors don modern, casual clothing as they wait for their plane to arrive at the terminal. After the crash, the costumes, designed by Jennifer Moeller, are colorful and exuberant, reflecting the chaotic nature of the show and Viola’s rich fantasies.

McSweeny’s creativity is further reflected in the show’s intentionally anachronistic aesthetic. Orsino, Viola and Sebastian wear loud, bell-bottom suits reminiscent of the ’70s, while Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s, played by Jim Lichtscheidl, clothing bears more resemblance to the tacky trends of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

The music also ranges widely in style. Music director Matthew Deitchman takes the drunken songs Shakespeare wrote and elevates them with modern instrumentation. While some are metallic electric guitar numbers, others are folk-rock acoustic melodies.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it may be hard to keep up with the play’s dense Shakespearian language, but McSweeny combats this problem with a modern setting and prop pieces. From the tickets to the signage to the stage, McSweeny creates the feeling that both the audience and the characters are at the airport. Subtle additions, like Aguecheek’s karaoke session and scooters for Orsino’s men, succeed in adapting “Twelfth Night’s” plot to a modern context.

While McSweeny’s vision for “Twelfth Night” is generally successful, a few choices fall flat. The depiction of Fabian, played by Koral Kent, typically one of Olivia’s gentlemen, as a young girl only serves to distract from the plot, rather than heighten its comedic elements. Additionally, Emily Townley’s portrayal of Maria as overly flirtatious, combined with her revealing costume, unnecessarily sexualize her role, diminishing her character’s motivations.

Moreover, Orsino — traditionally an overbearing character — was over the top in the Shakespeare Theatre’s rendition of the play. Through Orsino’s character, it often seems like McSweeny is using homoeroticism as a comedic device, insinuating that Orsino is more in love with Cesario, Viola’s alter ego, than he is with Viola herself. As a result, the ending is confusing, and the excitement of Viola getting to be with the man she loves is overshadowed by the suggestion that Orsino is gay.

While the cast of “Twelfth Night” is, for the most part, exceptional, Robinson’s Viola undoubtedly carries the show from start to finish. Having starred as Celia in Folger Theatre’s “As You Like It” last February, Robinson is no stranger to the Shakespearian spotlight. She masterfully conveys Viola’s emotion, whether she is distressed, heartbroken, confused or overjoyed.

In the last number, Feste the Fool, played by Heath Saunders, sings the words, “But that’s all one, our play is done / And we’ll strive to please you every day,” while Viola makes her way to center stage, where she lies down as snow gently falls on her from the sky above.

By ending the show this way, McSweeny reinforces the dreamlike nature of “Twelfth Night,” leaving the audience to question whether the show was all a figment of Viola’s romantic fantasies.

While the show begins with the bang of the plane crash, Robinson ends it with a whisper. Though she does not speak, as she stands quietly looking up at the snow, the actress subtly conveys Viola’s newfound sense of peace to the audience.

With “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Theatre provides a valuable commentary on love and love lost. It transports the audience to the magical land of Illyria, where people are compelled by their hearts and not their minds. To echo Orsino’s words, Shakespeare Theatre’s “Twelfth Night” is the “food of love,” and Shakespeare admirers will enjoy feasting their eyes on it.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Twelfth Night” is at Sidney Harman Hall until Dec. 20. The show is about two hours and 45 minutes long and tickets range from $25-118.

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