Midpeninsula Post

Palo Alto Players perform spirited rendition of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”

Palo Alto Player's "Twelfth Night" in June 2022. (Raj Virginkar)

Audience members were swept into a whirlwind of energy and color with amusing antics, brief musical performances and vibrant 1920s sets in Palo Alto Players’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” 

The sets of "Twelfth Night” take the audience back to the 1920s. (Raj Virginkar)

Palo Alto Players is a community-focused theater organization based at the Lucie Stern Theater and has been around for over 90 years. “Twelfth Night” is the group’s last show of the 2021-22 season. 

The romantic comedy, directed by Roneet Rahamim, features a love triangle between Viola, who dresses up as a man to find work, her employer, Orsino, and a noble, Lady Olivia. The play is filled with humorous misunderstandings, miscommunications and antics from the mischievous members of Lady Olivia’s household.

In a comedic scene four members of Olivia’s household eavesdrop on Olivia’s steward Malvolio. (Raj Virginkar)

The cast consisted heavily of Gunn alumni and teachers, including performing arts director Kristen Lo, who played Olivia; former Gunn theater teacher James Shelby, who played Olivia’s steward Malvolio; Gunn alumna Caitlin Gjerdrum, who played jester Feste and Gunn alumna Emily Scott, who played Viola.

Gjerdrum said the cast members were able to work together effectively because many had previously studied with each other under Lo and Shelby. 

“There’s a lot to be said for working with people who need no context for you. It feels like we can dive really deep really fast,” Gjerdrum said.

Gjerdrum, who specializes in music, picked out songs that Feste and other characters performed in “Twelfth Night.” She wrote a few of the pieces that she performed, and noted that much of her preparation for the play consisted of choosing appropriate music to augment the storytelling.

Gjerdrum (far left) sings a short song during a scene in “Twelfth Night.” (Raj Virginkar)

Scott said she tried to find her character authentically, and that although her character pretends to be a man for a large portion of the show, she was instructed to act without trying to be distinctively male.

“I had to find Viola before I could find her playing a guy,” Scott said. “And then soon before performances, Roneet was like, ‘Okay, layer on the guy now,’ and that was sort of scary, but I was also really glad that I had found Viola first.”

Aguecheek (left) and Viola (right), disguised as Cesario, duel with umbrella props. (Raj Virginkar)

Lo was involved with picking the play itself, and she said she chose “Twelfth Night” because she knew she wanted to do a Shakespeare play. As performing arts director at Gunn, she has helped with these “Gunn-centric” productions since the play “Death of a Salesman” in 2016. 

“Twelfth Night” was originally scheduled to be performed in 2020, but was postponed due to COVID-19, which Lo said made her all the more grateful to be able to perform this year. 

“COVID puts this layer on a play that makes you very thankful for every rehearsal you get to go through, for every performance you get to go to,” Lo said. “Every time you get an email from your state manager, you worry that this show will be canceled.” 

In fact, the cast’s first weekend of shows, which was meant to start June 10, was canceled due to COVID-19. Even after show dates were rescheduled, some cast members missed shows or weren’t able to perform at all.

Maria (far left), Feste (left), Sir Toby Belch (right) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (far right) have a conversation. (Raj Virginkar)

Though this season harbored unconventional circumstances, the actors said they enjoyed the rehearsals and performances with newfound gratitude for their community.

“[It] was pretty wild,” Shelby said, “But we made it and everybody supported everybody. It was a great group.”

“It was great,” Gjerdrum said. “I love this whole group, and I feel so thankful for the experience.”

Virtual access to a recording of the play is available to purchase on the Palo Alto Players website until July 31.

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