From the moment the musicians launch into the mambo favorite “Sway,” it’s clear we’re a long ways from Elizabethan England in the new production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” that opened Friday evening at Cottage Theatre.
In fact, we’re in Cuba (good thing Obama just opened the border to travel).
And Tony Rust, who does admirable triple duty here by playing a charming Feste, designing the scrumptious set and directing the entire play, is on the band stand singing at the Club 12th Night sometime in the 1950s.
As Rust/Feste begins to croon “Sway with me, stay with me…” into the floor mike, we know we’re not only in good hands but in for a rollicking good time from one of Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible plays.
Twelfth Night is basically a four-century-old rom-com, with a simple but happily preposterous plot based on nearly identical twins, wavering affections and severely mistaken identities.
The core of the story concerns Viola, played here by Tracy Nygard, and her twin brother, Sebastian, played by Randall Brous. In Rust’s production, they are American southerners – beware of broad accents – shipwrecked and separately cast ashore in Cuba, where Viola renames herself Cesario and disguises herself as a man.
Romantic adventures and confusion follow. Viola is pursued by the beautiful countess Olivia (Martha Benson), who of course sees only Cesario inside that men’s suit; Viola sets her own cap for Don Orsino (Davis Smith), the wealthy night club owner.
Rust may be a wildly passionate singer as Feste, but he runs a tight ship as director, from a nicely choreographed sword fight – what would Shakespeare be without one, even in Havana? – and a hilarious comic scene in which Malvolio (Earl Ruttnecutter) is tricked into appearing in yellow stockings and crossed gaiters in his vainly pompous hope of courting Olivia.
Dale Flynn as Toby Belch and Mark Anderson as Andrew Ague-cheek add bawdy comic relief, along with Sophie Blades and Melissa Miller as Olivia’s maids.
Mix in a sprinkling of Spanglish, several potted palms, several more good songs from the bandstand and one spectacular push-up bra, and you’re in for an evening of non-stop Hispano-Elizabethan fun.
Cottage Theatre, 700 Village Drive, Cottage Grove
Through February 15