At first glance, it-s simple - boy meets girl. Girl then falls in love with boy. Except of course, that boy is really a girl pretending to be a boy.
This famous twist is the engine that drives Shakespeare-s Twelfth Night, perhaps the greatest romantic comedy ever written. The Globe Theatre-s traditional staging of Twelfth Night, currently running at the Freud Theater, would seem to complicate matters: the girl, Olivia, is played by a man and the boy, Cesario, who is actually a girl, Viola, is also played by a man.
This confusing idea of two men in Elizabethian costume pretending to be women might not sound either romantic or comedic - but as played by Mark Rylance and Michael Brown, these scenes in Twelfth Night are perhaps the most entertaining and heartfelt theatrical moments one can experience.
For those worried that the -men playing women- element is a gimmick, the entire staging recreates the play as it was first performed in 1602, when women were banned from stages and female roles were performed by men.
I saw this production two years ago when it premiered at the open-air Globe Theatre in England. On a warm summer evening, the play-s three hours flew by as if it were a half-hour sit-com-but with real laughter instead of a laugh-track and double entendres that weren-t stale, but rather seemed as if they were improvised right there on the stage.
This -original practices production- became the toast of London and its success inspired an American tour. But the Globe-s residency here in Los Angeles is short-and there are only 4 performances left. Anyone who loves Shakespeare, theater, or-actually anyone who loves anything should consider this Twelfth Night a must-see event.
The man behind this production is Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe-and the actor who portrays Olivia. Rylance-s voice and gestures are not particularly feminine, but his Olivia is a consumate lady. He plays the mourning Countess as a prim and haughty monarch, one who floats across the stage as if footsteps were beneath her dignity.
Rylance-s performance is a masterclass of subtle movements, faint pauses and grand emotions. I will never forget the moment his Olivia accidentally reveals her interest in Cesario. He reads the line -Let him send no more; Unless, perchance you come to me again- with a perfect cadence, halting briefly as Olivia realizes she has let her regal fa-ade momentarily slip. Then as she tries awkwardly to prevent her body language from transmitting her feelings, Rylance pushes a faint blush through his white-powdered make-up. The effect is breathtaking. This slight revelation feels as if mountains have collapsed and continents have shifted. For once it is not a clich-: love has changed everything.
The rest of the cast is also excellent, with special prasie for Liam Brennan as Orsino and Albie Woodington as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Tickets for this Twelfth Night have been scarce, but any expenditure of time and money is well worth it. This is Shakespeare of a caliber rarely seen in Los Angeles-and quite frankly, theater of a caliber rarely seen anywhere around the globe.
This is James Taylor with Theater Talk for KCRW.