Liz Freese’s excellent set for Lamar University’s “Twelfth Night.”

As we slowly emerge from the darkness that is the global pandemic, it is time to return to the darkness that is live theater. Lamar University’s latest production is a bright light that offers a chance to wallow in the sensory splendor of watching actors interacting with an audience.

The University Theatre offers ample opportunity to socially distance, and the audience is required to wear masks throughout, but “Twelfth Night” is the perfect way to spend an evening.

One of William Shakespeare’s most loved plays, “Twelfth Night” begins with a shipwreck where Viola is separated from her twin, Sebastian, who is presumed dead. Washing up on the shores of Illyia, Viola decides to disguise herself as a young man, Cesario, and joins the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with Olivia, who is in mourning for the death of her brother and rejects his advances. Orsino decides to send Cesario to plead his case with Olivia. Of course, being a Shakespeare comedy, Olivia is smitten with the young man. Also, of course, Cesario/Viola has fallen in love with Orsino. Shenanigans ensue.

The play may be the thing, to paraphrase the Bard, but fans of the act of play, of the business of stagecraft, will be struck bythe production values on display.

Walking into the theater, one is wonderfully accosted by Liz Freese’s set which is at once both sumptuous and simple, a difficult trick to pull off. Adding to the visuals is Cheri Acosta’s costume design, ably realized by Amie McMillan, which add to the richness of the production and also serve an important function in the character development.

The cast of 13 characters is played by six actors. As they switch from one character to another, they shift a costume piece to tip the audience that the switch has been made. More importantly, the actors do a great job of finding differences in their characters, even conversing with themselves. In fact, seeing the shifts, far from distracting, adds to the fun of the show. 

The entire ensemble is excellent and if they didn’t enjoy the heck out working together, then they are even better actors than I give them credit for. The energy flies off the stage and the audience cannot fail to be drawn into the fun. Janely Alvarez is a delight when she switches from Cesario/Viola to incorporate Sebastian’s macho swagger.

Tyler Rooney has obvious fun with his portrayal of the drunken Sir Toby, before fully embodying the more regal Orsino. Brianna Butler more than matches Rooney is the dual roles of love-struck Olivia and the wastrel Sir Andrew.

Matt Hunt does sterling work as the put-upon Malvolio and Ashley Galan makes the most of the mischievous Maria and the sea captain.

It seems unfair to single out one person among such a tight ensemble, but Kaylee Lambert is an absolute delight in the triple roles of Fabian, Sir Topas the priest and, most importantly, the fool, Feste. Diminutive in stature, Lambert dominates the stage, leading the cast in songs (did I mention the sea shanties?) as her Feste pushes and pulls the characters through the various schemes to the happy conclusion. 

This production of “Twelfth Night” is conceptualized by Carolyn Johnson, a guest director at LU who helmed the superb “Mauritius” a few years ago. Johnson was slated to direct “Twelfth Night” before circumstances intervened, but it would be hard to improve on Alan Brinks’ terrific work. The final scene, where all 13 characters are on stage at once is a joyously clever piece of invention.

It occurs to me that I have used some iteration of the word “joy” almost excessively throughout this review. I guess that just about sums up why you should go see it — unless joy isn’t your thing.

“Twelfth Night” continues April 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m.. April 11. Run time is 95 minutes with no intermission.

Seating is limited for social distancing, and masks are required for the audience.

Tickets are $15 for general admission. To purchase tickets, visit lamar.edu/lutdtix.

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