Review: Old Globe’s playful and faithful ‘Twelfth Night’ a celebration of ‘What You Will’

Greg Germann as Malvolio (left) and Esco Jouléy as Feste in the Old Globe's "Twelfth Night."
(Courtesy of Jim Cox)

The music-filled production, directed by Tony winner Kathleen Marshall, subtly toys with Shakespeare’s love for gender fluidity


The only play in William Shakespeare’s canon with two titles is “Twelfth Night or What You Will.” The first part refers to the final festivities of the 12 days of Christmas. But scholars have long speculated on the meaning of the rarely used second part: “What You Will.”

In the Old Globe’s new production of “Twelfth Night,” which opened Saturday night under drizzly skies in the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall has leaned into that “what you will” invitation. In this lighthearted and music-centric staging, set in a Moroccan-style palace set designed by Lawrence E. Moten III, the characters can do and be whatever they wish.

The comedy’s old-fashioned theatrical tropes of twins separated by misfortune and girls disguised as boys are faithfully followed in this production. But Marshall mixes in some playful what-ifs that give the story a more modern sensibility.

Biko Eisen-Martin and Naian González Norvind in the Old Globe's "Twelfth Night."
Biko Eisen-Martin as Orsino and Naian González Norvind as Viola in the Old Globe’s “Twelfth Night.”
(Courtesy of Jim Cox)

In “Twelfth Night,” twins Viola and Sebastian are tossed ashore by a shipwreck and each presumes the other dead. Viola hides her identity by dressing as a young man to serve as a page named Cesario to duke Orsino, who enlists Cesario to woo the orphaned lady Olivia on his behalf. Instead, Viola secretly falls for Orsino and Olivia, not so secretly, for Cesario. In this staging, Orsino clearly longs for Cesario. Even when Viola’s gender identity is revealed, she weds Orsino not in her “woman’s weeds” but in Cesario’s manly breeches and boots, designed by costumer Michael Krass.

Another example of “what you will” is the character of Feste the clown, played by non-binary actor Esco Jouléy, who last fall played the love-struck Orlando to non-binary actor Peter Smith’s Rosalind/Ganymede in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at La Jolla Playhouse.

‘Twelfth Night’ kicks off the Globe’s outdoor Shakespeare season. ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ will open July 30

June 4, 2023

Marshall has placed the charismatic Jouléy at the center of the play to challenge the pompous rigidity of Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, and encourage the revelries of Olivia’s happy-go-lucky uncle Sir Toby. Shakespeare wrote verses for six songs in “Twelfth Night,” and Marshall has given them all to Jouléy, who accompanies themself on a ukulele to an original score by composers Miriam Sturm and Michael Bodeen.

As Viola/Cesario, the petite Naian González Norvind has great facility with the Elizabethan language and a bright, brainy stage presence. Biko Eisen-Martin, who played the angry, disillusioned U.S. sprinter John Carlos in the Globe’s recent “The XIXth (The Nineteenth),” shows his softer side as the emotionally unmoored Orsino.

Greg Germann’s surprisingly sympathetic Malvolio is so uptight he practically spits out all of his words in staccato gasps. As Olivia, Medina Senghore is both restrained by her grief for her lost family and girlish in her attraction to Cesario. Jason O’Connell is an endearing scene-stealer as the not-so-bright Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who unsuccessfully courts Olivia. And Jose Balistrieri has an amusing turn as Sebastian, Viola’s twin who the sex-starved Olivia confuses with Cesario.

“Twelfth Night” runs about 2 hours, 40 minutes, with intermission. Sadly, San Diego’s warm spring and summer weather has yet to return. But Marshall’s production has a sunny disposition that celebrates the play’s original gender fluidity, proving 400 years later that love is love, be it “what you will.”

‘Twelfth Night’

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays and July 3. Through July 9 (no performances June 17 or July 4)

Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego

Tickets: $29 and up

Phone: (619) 234-5623


A scene from the Old Globe's "Twelfth Night."
(Courtesy of Jim Cox)