Does a coffin belong center stage for the opening scenes of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"? Strictly speaking, yes. Lady Olivia refuses to entertain Count Orsino's proposals of marriage because she's mourning her brother's death. After a shipwreck in which a young noblewoman, Viola, believes that her brother, Sebastian, perishes, she disguises herself as a eunuch and acts as a servant to Orsino.
The prominence of the coffin cannot, however, prepare audiences for some of the gimmicky silliness that ensues in this production. Directors Peter Meineck and Robert Richmond, who use a fleet adaptation that Richmond created, punctuate scenes with characters capering across the stage -- led by Louis Butelli's sage but mincing portrayal of the clown Feste. Underscoring these antics is Anthony Cochrane's fusion of Elizabethan-sounding melodies and techno-pop. Megan Bowers' dark, handsome Elizabethan costumes, befitting the production's somber opening image, are also occasionally augmented with anachronistic touches: Cochrane's brawny and interestingly mean-spirited Sir Toby Belch wears a bowler.
In spite of the production's uneven tone, "Night" boasts many lovely performances. Lindsay Rae Taylor's Viola can be both an immature ingénue and a genuinely mature young woman. Her male persona, Cesario, is an amusing caricature of youthful male bravado. Lisa Carter delivers a thoughtful, dignified performance as Olivia, whose façade crumbles when she falls for Cesario.
Equally crumbling, and quite delightful when not being overplayed, is Kenn Sabberton's dour, Ray Walston–esque Malvolio, victim to a prank rigged by Toby and Natasha Piletich's enjoyably saucy Maria, Olivia's lady-in-waiting. Topped with what looks like a drag queen's wig after a heavy rain, Lincoln Hudson makes Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Toby's drinking partner and Olivia's unwanted suitor, a model of simpering vapidity.
Rounding out the company are Stephen Stout, who makes Sebastian an appealing swashbuckler, and Andrew Schwartz, in dual roles as a sea captain and the love-struck Orsino.