Twelfth Night, presented by the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida, June 12-28, 2009

Cameron Hunt McNabb
University of South Florida

Cameron Hunt. "Review of Twelfth Night, presented by the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida, June 12-28, 2009." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10) <URL:>. 

Directed by John Conlon and musically directed by Latoya McCormick. Choreographed by Margaret Musmon. Lighting by Frank Hale. With Robert Colwell as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, William Glenn as Orsino, Joe McCue as Sebastian, Melanie Marquez as Viola, Tom Massey as Malvolio, Richard Miller as Sir Toby Belch, Trish Perry as Feste, and Holly Weber as Olivia.


  1. Never judge a theatre by its exterior. As I pulled into the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, I first noticed the interstate barreling next to its back parking lot and then the building itself, looking bruised from its rough neighbor. I was a bit skeptical. But by the end of the evening, I was pleasantly surprised; the night afforded me a cozy theatre, a delightful play, and as much complimentary wine and coffee as I desired.  The St. Petersburg Little Theatre garnered one more fan.

  2. The SPLT is the oldest continuously operating community theatre in Florida, with Twelfth Night concluding its 84th season. The entire organization runs on its volunteers (true community theatre!), and their repertoire focuses primarily on modern drama and musicals. Accordingly, its Twelfth Night was unusual in both content and form.

  3. The theatre advertised the production as “Shakespeare with a splash of rum and lime set to the tunes of a Caribbean beat.” Director John Conlon placed Illyria somewhere among the present-day islands, even including casual references to Haiti and Martinique. This transplantation is not unique, as a few productions have been set in the Caribbean in the last decade, but the locale’s familiarity to its Floridian audience made it particularly appropriate.

  4. The set was simple enough—the Orsino and Olivia households were represented by doors on stage right and left respectively, while a palm-fronded tiki hut took center stage. The props consisted of a preponderance of maracas, martini glasses, and paper umbrellas; the mock fight scene was particularly comical when Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Cesario used large umbrellas as their “unhatched rapiers” (3.4.236). Similarly, most of the cast was costumed in contemporary tropical beachwear: Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek looked like they had jumped out of a Tommy Bahama catalogue. ‘Antonia’ (Antonio was cast as female) resembled Captain Jack Sparrow, and Viola’s disguise—a pastel blazer and fake mustache—looked conspicuously like a resort manager. Both she and Sebastian sported ponytails, making their androgynous nature even more pronounced. Olivia, Malvolio, and Maria wore mourning clothes through the first half of the play for the recent death of Olivia’s brother. Her ‘veil’ was a pair of humorously oversized designer sunglasses. Malvolio however had the most, and most diverse, costume changes: at first, his black, clean-cut suit had a Mormon look, perhaps the twenty-first century equivalent of an Elizabethan Puritan. However later, during his discovery of the counterfeit love letter, he wore black-rimmed glasses with tape on the bridge, evoking the stereotypical nerd. His cross-gartering scene featured yellow knee-highs and Guitar Hero boxers.

  5. Since the SPLT is a community theatre, the caliber of acting was mixed. Trish Perry (Feste), Richard Miller (Sir Toby Belch), and Robert Colwell (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) were wonderful. All three handled the pinball wit of their scenes rather well. Melanie Marquez gave a fairly strong performance as Viola, playing her as an innocent yet determined young woman caught in the throngs of the aristocratic households. Yet the production had some weak points as well—William Glenn (Orsino) and Holly Weber (Olivia) were often forced and dry in their line delivery, and the ensemble dancing was mediocre at best.

  6. Despite its flaws, the production offered two important insights into Twelfth Night: first, it highlighted the oft-slighted musical portions of the play, and second, it replicated the Carnivalesque atmosphere of the traditional Twelfth Night festival. Originally, the five musical sequences in Twelfth Night were meant to showcase the vocal skills of Robert Armin (the Chamberlain’s Men’s clown). As such, in modern productions, the play’s music risks appearing as a clunky interlude for those less familiar with Shakespearean language or the conventions of festive comedy. This production, however, replaced the original songs with contemporary ones that were not only lively, engaging, and accessible but also entertaining and informative. With selections like “Hot Hot! Hot!” and “The Banana Boat Song,” the audience drank up the song-and-dance routines, even clapping mid-play after each of them. (I couldn’t help but think of “Hot! Hot! Hot!” as a reference to Malvolio’s humor rather than the weather, but alas I fear I was the only one.) And the lyrics of “The Banana Boat Song”—“Daylight come, and me wanna go home”—concluded the play quite well.

  7. Conlon chose the Caribbean backdrop to invoke the “night of misrule” and revelry associated with the Elizabethan Twelfth Night, which concluded the Saturnalian Christmas celebrations. Since all that remains of the pseudo-pagan holiday are a handful of rituals and the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song, replicating the spirit of the day in Elizabethan England is difficult. However, a similar spirit of release exists in our modern society during vacations, such as one to the Caribbean (perhaps on a cruise, with an open bar?). Thus, in this production, the calypso musical numbers and the romantic “drama” of the lovers looked like an excerpt from MTV’s Spring Break. The audience understood the social signification of the setting: what happens in Illyria stays in Illyria. The characters (and audience) are given license to break with the norms of society, knowing that order will be restored when daylight comes and they all wanna go home.

  8. I look forward to the SPLT’s 85th season, abutting interstate and all. If music be the food of love, play on!.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Ed. David Bevington. NY: Bantam, 1988.



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