Women rule in Cal Shakes’ evocative ‘Twelfth Night’

A huge black coffin sits on an otherwise empty stage in director Christopher Liam Moore’s funny and melancholy “Twelfth Night” at California Shakespeare Theater.

As the Countess Olivia wafts in, silent and veiled, it is initially a reminder that she’s grieving for the recent death of her brother.

But soon enough the wise fool Feste pops out of it, both an observer and a participant in the ensuing action.

Occasionally moved around the stage, the coffin continues as a constant and lugubrious reminder of the dark side of life.

This female-only (except for Ted Deasy, who deftly plays Feste and a few other small roles) “Twelfth Night” is wonderfully physical (Erika Chong Shuch, movement consultant): Stacy Ross’ grim and spidery-legged Malvolio (Olivia’s loyal attendant) wobbles precariously before tumbling down a few steps (and quickly recovering his aplomb); Margo Hall’s effete, dimwitted Aguecheek is in a continual comical dither, encased in an absurd ruff (inventive period costumes by Meg Neville); Catherine Castellanos’ drunken Sir Toby stumbles about buffoonishly; Rami Margron’s impetuous Duke Orsino pines not just through text but also through expressive body language.

Of course, it’s hard to ruin Shakespeare’s comedy. It’s full of mistaken identities (Viola washes ashore in Illyria, her twin brother presumed drowned, and disguises herself as a page, Cesario, to serve Orsino; said brother, Sebastian, materializes after all, confusing everybody), unrequited love (Orsino’s for Olivia; Olivia’s for Viola-as-Cesario) and one really wicked prank (played on the much-loathed, truly pitiful Malvolio).

But what makes this version special, in addition to the deft physical antics and women in male roles, are the full-blooded performances by an all-around excellent cast. Julie Eccles plays Olivia like a lustfully besotted, almost maddened teenager. As Viola/Cesario, Lisa Anne Porter’s love for Orsino is necessarily more circumspect but just as intense. (In a neat cap trick, Porter also plays Sebastian, and when both twins are onstage, the effect is surprisingly magical.)

Moore adds just the right, light touch of anachronism: cell phones and a rolling suitcase appear, as do a few contemporary songs (as well as Elizabethan ditties, including a buoyant, wistful closing number).

The delicious cavorting of Aguecheek, Sir Toby and Domenique Lozano’s sly Maria, the bumbling duel between Aguecheek and Cesario (fight choreography by Dave Maier), Ross’ all-too-human Malvolio and other comic delights contrast beautifully with the characters’ deep yearning.


Twelfth Night

Presented by California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda

When: Tuesdays-Sundays; closes June 21

Tickets: $20 to $72

Contact: (510) 548-9666,

artsCalifornia Shakespeare TheaterChristopher Liam MooreTwelfth Night

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Passengers ride the 14-Mission Muni bus on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Transit officials fear Free Muni pilot could hurt already-strained service levels

Supporters say fare cuts could increase ridership, help low-income residents

The vacant property at 730 Stanyan St. in the Haight currently houses a safe sleeping site for the homeless. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Affordable housing project on former McDonald’s site delayed as city adds units

The start of construction on an affordable housing project on the site… Continue reading

Visitors read a notice hanging on the Polk Street entrance to City Hall on Thursday, March 26, 2020, shortly after the building was closed. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City Hall reopening to the public on June 7 after long closure due to COVID-19

San Francisco will reopen City Hall to the public on June 7… Continue reading

Historic streetcars are undergoing testing on The Embarcadero to prepare for their return to service on May 15.<ins></ins>
What to expect for Muni Metro’s relaunch on May 15

Significant service restoration includes downtown subway tunnels and historic streetcars

Most Read