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Rain, wind, laughs perfect for an outdoor take on ‘Twelfth Night’

Nike Kadri (center) is Olivia, with Andrea San Miguel (left) as Viola and Nate Santana (far right) as her twin brother, Sebastian in the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks production of "Twelfth Night." ( Photo by Chuck Osgood)

You really have to hand it to the actors who perform in the summertime Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks shows.

‘TWELFTH NIGHT’

Recommended

When: Through Aug. 14

Where: Various Chicago parks

Tickets: Free

Info: http://www.chicagoshakes.com/parks

Run time: 80 minutes. with one intermission

Not only must they withstand the wind and the rain, fire and ice and mosquitoes and bees while dressed in costumes that turn out to be either too hot or not nearly warm enough. But they must capture the attention of audiences who, though they watch appreciatively, might also be unwrapping a picnic, opening an umbrella or running after a toddler at the same time they are following the plot of the play at hand. And oh yes, these actors also must bring exceptional verbal clarity and great physicality to their roles in order to connect with audiences sprawled out over quite a distance, and with all the disturbances of the great outdoors.

In short, these performers are the theater’s version of endurance athletes. And it must be said that their audiences, too, are a hearty bunch. Just consider the formidable crowd that gathered on the east end of Navy Pier for the opening night performance of this season’s show, “Twelfth Night,” which coincided with a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Pier itself. Despite a cold wind and periodic rain, they all remained in their folding chairs or perched on nearby steps. And were rewarded with a story-perfect backdrop of a genuinely roiling “sea” dotted with an array of boats — ideal for this dark comedy that begins with a shipwreck and goes on to spin a story involving separated twins, mismatched lovers, gender confusion, puritanism, debauchery and more. (A subsequent performance, in Tuley Park, had to be canceled because of extreme heat.)

The play follows the fates of Viola (an effortlessly plucky Andrea San Miguel) and her twin brother, Sebastian (Nate Santana), who are separated in a shipwreck. Believing Sebastian has died, Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (Neal Moeller).

The Duke is madly in love with the grief-stricken Countess Olivia (the glamorous, sensual Nike Kadri), whose own brother and father have recently died. And he asks his unusually articulate “boy” servant to be his go-between and help communicate his love to the resistant Olivia. But things become more than a little complicated as Olivia is oddly charmed by this “boy,” who, in fact, she has fallen in love with. At the same time, Viola/Cesario cannot reveal her real identity, and, to make things worse, she has fallen in love with the Duke herself.

Meanwhile, in a subplot, Olivia’s boisterous, hard-drinking uncle, Sir Toby Belch (winningly played by Ronald Conner), and his wealthy, addled pal, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a very funny Dominic Conti), generate chaos in Olivia’s home. And after being reprimanded for their bad behavior by Olivia’s priggish but devoted steward, Malvolio (Jonathan Weir in sensational form), they join forces with the Countess’ housekeeper, Maria (sharp work by Lydia Berger Gray), to humiliate the man, who just happens to have a hidden crush on Olivia.

Will Mobley (most winning as the guitar playing Fool/balladeer), and Juan Villa (as the humane Sea Captain), also have fine moments in a cast that includes Garrett Lutz, Donovan Diaz and Nik Kmiecik.

The show is adapted and directed with panache by Kirsten Kelly, whose significantly trimmed version of the play retains the essence of all the characters and plot, as well as some spicy word play. The “theater” for the park productions is a great fold-out “truck,” and here, designer Scott Davis has devised a clever set that puts everything just a bit off-kilter to suggest both the shipwreck and the various romantic situations, while Rachel Healy’s costumes are spot-on in this play in which love invariably results in confusion.

NOTE: For a complete calendar and map of upcoming performances of “Twelfth Night” visit www.chicagoshakes.com/parks.

Dominic Conti (left) plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Ronald Conner is Sir Toby Belch in the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks production of “Twelfth Night.” (Photo: Chuck Osgood)
Dominic Conti (left) plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Ronald Conner is Sir Toby Belch in the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks production of “Twelfth Night.” (Photo: Chuck Osgood)