By Quinn Rigg
Art presents a testing ground through which humanity may push contested boundaries. The soul is motivated by passion to fight in the same way it is incited to create. As any painter, poet or pugilist could tell you, in love and chaos all is fair; and since one cannot ask William Shakespeare, one instead must ask Dylan S. Roberts, director of Midsommer Flight’s tuneful tradition of the Bard’s own farcical comedy, Twelfth Night, presented in partnership with the Chicago Park District.
Bursting with passion, wanting, and midirecting squabbles, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck and ends with vows of matrimony and vows of vengeance — born of chaos to be completed in chaos. A synopsis of the plot may be found here. Midsommer Flight takes this play’s spark of mischief to light a blaze that burns hot and true with the light of laughter and discovery. Musicalized with a merry band of folk musicians, Midsommer Flight nurtures mischief in the greenhouse walls of the Lincoln Park Conservatory.
The show opens with a delightful pre-show setlist of Christmas songs performed by the production’s capable musicians, Laura Brennan, Olivia Lindsay, Brandon Nelson, JJ Smith, and Bailey Savage. The revelry of these musicians is a precursor to the harmonious homebrewed symphony that underscores the action of the play — this ensemble sets up staging, lays down ambiance, and participates directly in the action.
Director Roberts touches the heart of the piece with a commitment to the often-divisive relationships of the play. Keeping a steady hand to the unsteady pulse of the play’s tumultuous waters, Roberts promotes play within the ensemble. With a meager set of two blocks, actors hide, run, fly and battle with tactical clarity and refreshing spontaneity; what’s more, Roberts creates seamless transitions from scene to scene without the use of a single lighting element. The piece is marvelously paced, using the Conservatory’s meager accommodations for the organic benefit of the production’s naturalistic aesthetic. Opportunity is further found in the constraints of the alley staging, the length of which adds an enriching level of depth and perspective.
Music Director Jordan Golding layers soulful folk arrangements into the production. The acoustic accompaniments elicit a homegrown fervor that lacks pretension. Bolstering the natural wonder found in the space, the music is accessible, played with raw character and imbued with boundless energy. Brennan, Lindsay, Nelson, Smith and Savage string the audience along this heartfelt journey with unrelenting spirit.
Chris Smith’s fight direction is energized and snappy, tingling with adrenaline and bursting with character. Every hit is felt with stunning accuracy and impact. In the hands of this capable production team, the cast, teeming with talent already, flourishes even more lusciously.
Jackie Seijo charms the room with her eloquent and feisty Viola. Earnest and brimming with conniving curiosity, Seijo breathes life into every scene with intent, whole-hearted engagement.
Zach Tabor and Jason Goff create an unbeatable dynamic duo as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, respectively, revelling and riffing off of one another with delightfully reckless abandon. Their irrepressible charm and energy is well matched by the commanding Stephanie Mattos as Maria. Bailey Savage delicately puts the cherry on top of this winning recipe as the irreverent and witty Feste.
In embracing chaos, this production of Twelfth Night finds harmonious synthesis, for the members of this company understand that love and disorder coincide. The calculated, tactically rich performances beckon the senses to invest in the story. With the beautiful backdrop of a lush greenhouse, Midsommer Flight has created something as magical as it is natural. For those with an insatiable itch for warmth, excitement, or “Shakespeare in the park” in the middle of December, Twelfth Night is a must-see.
Midsommer Flight presents “Twelfth Night” through December 22 at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago. More information and tickets may be found here.