Nor is Olivia caricatured, as she sometimes is, as an overwrought, entitled, insensitive mistress. Rather, in Layton's exquisite hands, Olivia gives herself to loving Cesario with such smart, no-nonsense self-awareness, so clearly and helplessly seeing her desire override her intellect, empathy, and reason, that her comedy comes with an ache.

You know or can guess how everything wraps up. But if you've ever idly wondered how Olivia could so blithely reconcile herself to the truth (not to mention to having mistakenly married and given her maidenhood to a complete stranger, when Sebastian finally turns up) you'll find as immense a satisfaction as I do in this show's shadowy resolution. Here, the common cruelties wrought on us by love and each other are not easily wed away into light. Instead, McLernon briefly, breathtakingly sustains the gray, and lends fresh poignancy to Feste's elegiac epilogue about the inescapable griefs of the world, in which the rain, he sings, "raineth every day."

Megan Grumbling can be reached

TWELFTH NIGHT | by William Shakespeare | Directed by Dennis McLernon | Produced by the Freeport Shakespeare Festival | at L.L. Bean's Discovery Park | through August 12 |

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