Olivia (Kristen Kaye Lo, left) hears from Feste (Caitlin Gjerdrum). (Kate Hart Photography)
Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” seems to tempt theater directors into trying different concepts, many of which have been seen in the Bay Area over the decades.
The latest comes from Roneet Aliza Rahamim at Palo Alto Players. Using an adaptation by Max Tachis, this one is set at Coney Island in the 1920s.
For the most part, it works, especially since the plot, characters and Shakespeare’s glorious language are preserved.
Still, one difference is immediately apparent before the curtain rises. A small band and a jazz singer, played by Caitlin Gjerdrum, performs period songs. Other songs are heard throughout the play, but sometimes they come during dialogue and obscure the lines.
The curtain rises, and Gjerdrum then becomes Feste, the fool.
The action focuses on Viola (Emily Scott), who is washed ashore after a shipwreck. For self-preservation in this unknown land, she disguises herself as a boy called Cesario and offers her services as a page to Duke Orsino (Christopher Mahle). She’s immediately attracted to him.
Orsino pines for Olivia (Kristen Kaye Lo), a countess who wants nothing to do with him because she’s still mourning for some family members’ deaths.
Therefore, Orsino dispatches Cesario to her to plead his suit. Instead, Olivia is attracted to Cesario.
Adding much of the comedy to this tale of misplaced love are the antics of characters like Feste along with the drunken Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle; and his sidekick, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
On opening night the latter two were played by understudies: Troy Johnson as Sir Toby and Sam Putney as Sir Andrew. Although they carried scripts, both did an excellent job.
Two other characters from Olivia’s household are her attendant, Maria (Gay Penter Richard), and the steward, the dour Malvolio (James Shelby), who secretly loves Olivia.
Maria, Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are responsible for the gulling scene in which Maria writes a letter supposedly from Olivia in which she says she loves Malvolio and wants him to wear yellow stockings, be cross-gartered and smile, an alien action for him.
Mistaken identities with more comic implications arise when Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (Brian Flegel), arrives.
This being a romantic comedy, everything works out as it should.
Most of the cast and the director have connections to Gunn High School in Palo Alto as alumni or teachers.
For the most part, they do a commendable job. The only weak link is Mahle, who doesn’t have the strong stage presence needed for Duke Orsino.
Among the standouts, besides the two understudies, are Scott as Viola, Lo as Olivia, Richard as Maria and Gjerdrum as Feste.
Rahamim, the director, is aided by a strong production team: Todd L. Summers, music director; Scott Ludwig, scenic designer; Brooke Jennings, costume designer; Brian Hemmen, lighting designer; and BetterLed Productions, sound designer.
The opening was delayed by a week, but the show still will close June 26. It runs just over two and a half hours with an intermission at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
A recorded performance also will be streamed on demand June 23-26.
For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.