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Delaware Shakespeare has been a beacon in the First State for 20 years, and its Community Tour, launched in 2016, has become one of the company’s most important components. For these free productions, the ensemble adapts a Shakespeare play to be performed in the round in intimate or unexpected venues like community centers, school auditoriums and cafeterias, and prisons.
Back from a two-year pandemic hiatus, DelShakes has mounted another heartfelt Community Tour production featuring two firsts: it’s a fully bilingual play and it’s also an original musical. Opened on September 30, Twelfth Night, O Lo Que Quieras (Or What You Will) is making monthlong rounds to 15 Delaware venues and one in Philadelphia. Thirteen of these free performances are open to the public, and the tour ends (as always) with two ticketed shows in Wilmington.
The new shipwrecked twins
Twelfth Night opens as Violeta (izzy sazak) and twin brother Sebastian (Daniel L. Melo) are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Their family brands them as enemies on this island, ruled by lovesick Duke Orsino (Justin Yoder). He pines for the beautiful Olivia (Sydney Banks), who—grieving over the recent deaths of her father and brother and burdened with affairs of state—continually rejects his suit. In Olivia’s lively household are her cousin, the ne’er-do-well troublemaker Toby Belch (Newton Buchanan); her confidante and attendant Maria (Tai Verley); Sir Toby’s inane and fawning henchman Andrew (Paul Harrold); and self-important factotum Malvolio (Jered McLenigan). Ximena Violante as Feste, one of Shakespeare’s great fools, wanders throughout the action winding up the other characters.
It’s a Shakespeare comedy, so romantic and gender complications abound, as Violeta and Sebastian make their way through the hostile state, often mistaken for one another. There’s a comic plot to discredit and humiliate the puffed-up Malvolio, and Olivia and Orsino navigate the confusing territory of love. The play has been deeply altered in one important way, with the addition of a subplot that brings these twins from Venezuela to an Illyria hostile to immigrants, drawing direct and directly stated parallels to the tragic plight of today’s asylum-seekers.
A true musical
Liz Filios and Tanaquil Márquez co-wrote the two-act book, intertwining the original plot with the new story line. Transitions are mostly clean, though a few times the switch is a bit bumpy. Periodically, audience members are asked to hold protest signs and chant slogans, something they did with relish at the two performances I attended. While the new focus can easily be accommodated by Shakespeare’s plot, here the polemics that percolate and periodically erupt could be integrated more smoothly. It’s a pretty sure bet that audiences would easily grasp many of the parallels so overtly spelled out.
Twelfth Night is altered in another important and highly successful way: this is a true musical. It has 25 songs (including a couple of reprises): some in Spanish, some in English, and some in both languages. Barrymore winner Filios (with contributions by Violante, Robi Hager, and Patricio Hidalgo) has written the tuneful, well-constructed songs that often forward the action, including “A Degree to Love” (Banks and sazak) and “Greatness,” McLenigan’s comic tour de force.
Music director Peter Vitale, assisted by Harrold and Yoder, plays multiple instruments and shapes the show’s rhythm with a sure musical hand. He comes to DelShakes from Ten Thousand Things Theater in Minneapolis, the national flagship of this community-centered type of work. All the actors participate in music-making, but the production is also anchored by Violante, an accomplished and passionate singer who plays the jarana (a small Mexican guitar) and whose expertise in the Veracruz son jarocho tradition threads strongly and movingly throughout the play.
Cogent, swift, and joyous
Some lyrics are original, but often Filios utilizes the Bard’s poetry, meshing it creatively with the contemporary text. Especially notable are Orsino’s ballad “If Music Be the Food of Love” (expertly sung by Yoder) and the clever comic number “Care’s an Enemy to Life” (which Buchanan delivers with comic panache). Dialogue also intertwines Spanish and English, so it’s up to these nine actors to make sure everyone understands the action, something they accomplish admirably. The play opens with a shipwreck, the company magically portraying the storm as they sing “La Tormenta.” Throughout, ensemble work is seamless and committed, bringing watchers into the action and threading complex plot lines into a cogent picture.
As in many Shakespeare productions—traditional or re-thought—some actors play multiple characters; the switches are easy to follow and accomplished with finesse due to the players’ skills and effective changes of costumes (by Anna Sorrentino). But the play’s charm and breadth of spirit, as well as its clarity and forward motion, are due in great part to Márquez, who cleverly and thoughtfully directs this production with warmth, wit, and a sense of inclusiveness. Though it’s more than two hours long, the show flows swiftly and joyously.
This winning production continues in Delaware through October 23, with a 6pm performance (very limited capacity) on October 19 at Philly’s Alma del Mar restaurant.
What, When, Where
Twelfth Night, O Lo Que Quieras. By Liz Filios and Tanaquil Márquez, based on the play by William Shakespeare; with contributions by Ximena Violante, Robi Hager, and Patricio Hidalgo; directed by Márquez. Through October 23, 2022, at 16 free Community Tour performances statewide; two ticketed performances October 22 and 23 ($25 adults; $18 students) at Siegel Jewish Community Center, 101 Garden of Eden Road, Wilmington. (302) 468-4890 or delshakes.org.
Accessibility varies by venue. Audience members must be masked.
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