EN PLEIN AIR Fenix Theatre’s Twelfth Night.
Only a minute or two into the Fenix Theatre Company's Twelfth Night, certain principals are already wet and flailing on the floor of the reflecting pool in Deering Oaks Park. Such physical shenanigans are completely in keeping with the precedent Fenix has set for rowdy, rough-and-ready summer Shakespeare, which the company offers up al fresco — and by donation — for the wanton, guffawing groundlings in all of us. Stomping up and down the grassy slopes and tearing around audience members nibbling pizza and ribs on blankets, the Fenix players are by now one of Portland's most anticipated warm-weather pleasures. In this summer's installment, Bryant Mason directs a plethora of local favorites.
Most of them first appear, to the strains of the Doors' "Break On Through," as a mean but groovy ensemble sea: They billow blue fabric, throw buckets of water, and shake a leg at twins Viola and Sebastian (Sally Wood and Joe Bearor), whose separation-by-shipwreck is about to get the story going. The sea lands Viola in an Illyria of the 1960s, where we hear the lovelorn Duke Orsino (Mason), in paisley, give his famous "If music be the food of love" speech over the trippy eros of the Zombies' "Time of the Season." Orsino loves the Countess Olivia (Molly W. Bryant Roberts), who soon loves Viola disguised as Orsino's boy servant "Cesario," who soon comes to love "his" boss. Wood does an infectious woman-posing-as-young-man, giving Cesario a great urchin charm, and her scenes alone with Mason are deliciously and comically fraught.
Tempering all that romance is the debauchery of Olivia's uncle Sir Toby Belch (David Butler, pitch-perfect as the bellowing, rascally drunkard) on a perpetual drunk with Feste (Ian Carlsen), Olivia's jester, and with another of her suitors, the wealthy but moronic Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Rob Cameron). Together they wage delectable sophomoric war on Olivia's priggish steward Malvolio (Peter Brown, in high comic form). Impish Carlsen, the Puck of last year's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is the natural choice for the sumptuously smart clown of the house (though the degree of this Feste's near-constant inebriation takes some of the edge out of his wit); and as the cretinous dork Sir Andrew, Rob Cameron absolutely steals the show in a striped sweater vest and with a comically grotesque, wet-noodly pelvis.
The Fenix folks have previously made a habit of taking little liberties with the scripts, and in this show, too, there are a couple of fun tweaks. First of all, Mason has doubled our jester pleasure by making Fabian, originally a gentleman of the house, into a "jester-in-training" who accompanies Feste in his woozy frolics, which lets Mason highlight as apprentice to Carlsen the talented young Dylan Chestnutt. Mason has also added another layer of unrequited yearning by making Antonio, the sea captain who saves Sebastian, into Karen Ball's comely quasi-pirate Antonia, thereby sexualizing the "love" for Sebastian that the captain makes much of declaring.