‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘I Pretended to Be a Guy and Now Everyone Is Confused’

Maria (Sheree Galpert), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Conner Christiansen), and Sir Toby Belch (Robert Pemberton) in in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common “Twelfth Night”. Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.
Maria (Sheree Galpert), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Conner Christiansen), and Sir Toby Belch (Robert Pemberton) in in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Free Shakespeare On The Common “Twelfth Night”. Runs thru August 10. Directed by Steve Maler.
Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Now in its 19th year, Shakespeare on the Common (which is presented by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company) is back and in full swing. This year’s choice is the comedic “Twelfth Night,” in which a pair of twins—Viola and Sebastian—are separated in a shipwreck.

Once she washes ashore, Viola disguises herself as a guy (named Cesario) and goes to work for Duke Orsino, who asks her to woo Olivia, whom he loves. Spoiler: Viola has the hots for Orsino. It’s a complicated love triangle for sure, but thankfully the folks at the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company have written out a thorough synopsis in the program so that we can keep track of what’s going on.

Viola is in a bit over her head as her deception begins to unravel around her. Lucky for us, she’s in good hands, played with a strength and sincerity by the talented Marianna Bassham.

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Where Viola is expressive and beseeching, Olivia (played by Kerry O’Malley) commands the stage with a sort of simmering confidence. Her father and brother have just died and she is intent on denying suitors for the 7 years following their deaths. She will not be wooed easily. She will not be coerced into love. But then Viola/Cesario comes along and she’s fawning over him/her, Olivia’s foolish delusion playing out for our comedic enjoyment. Gone is the 7-year rule. At one point she’s crawling on the floor after him/her. She is in love with Viola/Cesario. The plot thickens. Hilarity ensues.

Running concurrent to the Olivia/Orsino/Viola love triangle is a subplot in which various characters conspire against Olivia’s steward Malvolio—played with aplomb by Fred Sullivan, Jr.—convincing him that Olivia is in love with him and forcing him to jump through all sorts of hoops.

One of the great things about Shakespeare is how dirty and vulgar it can be—especially the comedies.

“Fie these pickled herring,” says a drunk Sir Toby. That’s a fart joke, folks. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The comedic duo of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew is a riot. They sing. They dance. They take a selfie. Played by Conner Christiansen, Sir Andrew is hilarious, using every inch of his slight frame (standing on chairs, twirling, sashaying, jumping up into people’s arms) to aid in the vigor of the colorful, giggling, conniving character.

“Twelfth Night” is a fun production, fast moving and full of energy despite running a whopping 2.5 hours (a lifetime when you’re expected to sit on the ground.) If sprawling out on a blanket isn’t your thing, there are also specially-designated chair sections for those who desire additional lumbar support.

Best of all? It’s free.

“Twelfth Night,” Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common. Nightly (except Mondays) through Aug. 10.